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Linux TCO: Fact Or Fiction?

Has Linux' reputation for saving IT dollars become tarnished?

In the early days of Linux, back when its advocates consisted primarily of Kool-Aid-drinking enthusiasts and a handful of gutsy early adopters, one of the few obvious reasons to choose it over another OS was cost. At the time, people were still leery of its robustness and security, so selling point No. 1 always was about how open source could put some money back in their pockets.

But now, open-source vendors and resellers routinely push the OS as better-suited to running enterprise applications than its competitors. Its low cost is now seen as the closing point to drive the deal home.

Recently, however, critics have begun to say that, in fact, implementing Linux may be much more expensive than its supporters claimed, depending on what type of company and installation it is. Last month, the Yankee Group released a report that says bigger companies wanting to switch to Linux from Windows or Unix might find the back-office migration costs to be prohibitively expensive. The report went on to say that whatever price-tag advantage open source may have can be eaten up by a number of expenses associated with the migration, including hiring or retraining tech support people on the Linux system and potential downtime during the changeover.

"If you're a Unix shop, your technicians should be cross-trainable, but if you're a Windows shop, the bad economy may be holding you back from making the change because you don't want to add any unnecessary costs," says Frank Basanta, director of technology for Systems Solutions, a systems integrator in New York. "There also are timing costs of consolidating servers and getting people off of them to reboot the system."

That said, Basanta notes the long-term ROI becomes more attractive when you consider the stability of Linux. "We've had a Linux-based FTP server running for two years and have only had to reboot it twice for kernel updates," he says.

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