Yankee Group Disputes Linux' Claim To Lower Cost

Linux is not the low-cost alternative to Unix and Windows that many of the open-source operating system's proponents claim it is, a research firm said Monday. Furthermore, switching from Unix

April 6, 2004

4 Min Read
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Linux is not the low-cost alternative to Unix and Windows that many of the open-source operating system's proponents claim it is, a research firm said Monday.

Switching from Unix or Windows to Linux doesn't make sense for most mid- and large-sized organizations, said Laura DiDio, a senior analyst at Yankee Group who compiled the results of a survey of more than 1,000 IT administrators, chief information officers, and chief executive officers.

"Hype notwithstanding, Linux's technical merits, while first rate, are equivalent but not superior to Unix and Windows Server 2003," DiDio said. "What really nailed it was a question from the CIO of a large health care organization. She asked, 'If I were to do a switch, what does it buy me?'"

Although the biggest concern of Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 customers polled is the amount of time spent installing fixes and managing patches management, 72 percent of those surveyed rated Windows' reliability equal to Linux's.

"While Linux is currently not being hit with the same level of hacks and viruses as Windows, as Linux gains in popularity, its vulnerability will only increase," she said. "Within two years, organizations with a significant Linux presence will be spending just as much time and money to secure their Linux servers and desktops as they are with Windows today."On the return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) issues, DiDio found that the majority of enterprises believed that rather than lowering their costs, moving to Linux would actually increase them. "In large enterprises, a significant Linux deployment or total switch from Windows to Linux, would be three to four times more expensive and take three times as long to deploy as an upgrade from one version of Windows to a newer Windows release."

That's because of both the dominance of Windows in enterprises, and what DiDio calls the "familiarity of Windows" among CIOs, CEOs, and IT administrators.

"In a fully-realized enterprise environment that's built around Windows, you know where the trouble spots are," she said. "Why would you then switch to Linux, and take a couple of steps backwards? Enterprises have this huge embedded [Windows] infrastructure. How do you rip out and tear down what you have?"

Among those polled, over half said that they plan no changes to either their Windows server or desktop environments. (While 54 percent said they wouldn't switch from Windows servers, 57 percent said they had no plans to swap out Windows on the desktop.) Only 25 percent indicated that they would migrate "some" of their Windows servers to Linux; 21 percent said they would turn a portion of their Windows desktops into Linux systems.

It's the hidden costs of Linux that scare off a lot of enterprises. A majority of large enterprises with more than 5,000 end users said they would not install Linux as their primary server OS in the foreseeable future because it requires from 25 to 40 percent more support specialists than Windows or Unix. Additionally, those polled in top markets in the U.S. and Europe noted that skilled Linux administrators command a 20 to 30 percent greater salary than their Windows and Unix counterparts."That will change as time goes on," said DiDio. "As Linux gains traction, the price points of Linux network management salaries will come into line with Windows."

But with 90 percent of the 300 large enterprises with 10,000 or more end users saying that a significant or total switch from Windows to Linux would be prohibitively expensive, extremely complex, and time consuming -- and not provide any tangible business gains for the organization -- that time won't be soon.

Based on that kind of response, Linux won't dethrone Windows as the leading server vendor in the next two years, said DiDio. Linux on the desktop? It won't dent the 94 percent market share now held by Windows desktops through 2006.

A combination of factors make it unlikely that Linux will ever unseat Windows, said DiDio.

"The very severe economic downturn left many businesses running very lean. CIOs and CEOs are very pragmatic, and they're now very careful about spending their money. Then, Microsoft's software has gotten a lot better; it's not standing still. The third thing is that because of the downturn, many organizations have deferred upgrades."Those upgrades, which will have to happen in the 2004-05 timeframe, said DiDio, will occur before Linux has had a chance to gain a major foothold in the enterprise.

"That's bad news for Linux," she said. "Enterprises don't have the time or the inclination to wait for Linux to catch up [with Windows or Unix]."

With upgrades likely to continue Windows' dominance, it'll be another three to five years -- until the next upgrade cycle -- before Linux will get a good, long look by large companies.

Not all the news is ugly for Linux, however. Linux can deliver a dramatic increase in ROI and lower TCO for some firms, said DiDio. But they're primarily smaller shops in the engineering and scientific vertical markets, where the staff is extremely technical, and can create its own custom applications, build its own boxes, and do its own support without resorting to Linux vendors or developers.

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