Windows and Linux Struggle for the Enterprise

Conventional wisdom in the computing world suggests that Linux must be less expensive than Windows because it is available, at least in most cases, for free. Meanwhile, prevailing opinion also suggests that Linux is more secure than Microsoft’s server software — largely because Microsoft has been in the news so much with announcements about exploitable vulnerabilities.

But analysts and developers say that those opinions are largely unfounded, and that total cost of ownership (TCO) must be considered before a reasoned decision can be made about whether to adopt one or the other of these competing technologies.

While many in the industry have focused on the technology alone — including security and reliability issues — TCO includes much more than software. Support costs, integration issues, application compatibility and staffing are all issues to consider when choosing to deploy Linux or Windows.[*correction]

Beyond the Hype

Most corporate users, according to research consultancy Meta Group, have not undertaken major enterprise-wide Linux rollouts except for installing Linux server farms or Linux-based general infrastructure servers. Linux software has not really penetrated the application server world and is mostly, at least according to Meta Group, an IT ideal promoted by some in the “technical crowd.”

The truth, it seems, is a little more complex than those who make emotional appeals against Redmond would have us believe, and the Linux-vs.-Microsoft battle isn’t quite a Rumble in the Jungle — at least not yet.

“This competition is more an emotionally driven reaction against Microsoft than a factual case for Linux,” wrote Kevin McIsaac of Meta Group. “The Linux OS license is free, but that does not ensure that total cost of ownership will be reduced.”

What is known, right now, is that each OS has distinct advantages, and that each poses a competitive challenge to the other for dominance of the corporate enterprise computing space.

Lowering the TCO

Research firm IDC recently surveyed 104 companies in North America in an array of industries — and determined that Microsoft Windows 2000 offers a lower TCO than a Linux-based server in four out of five common workload scenarios.

The report demonstrated that Windows offered cost advantages of up to 22 percent over a five-year period in areas like network infrastructure, print-serving, file-serving and even security workloads.

Surprisingly, the report pointed out that the primary savings came from lower IT staffing costs associated with running a Windows environment. “IT personnel are generally the largest portion of IT costs,” said Peter Houston, the IDC analyst who wrote the report.

The license fee is only 2 percent of the total cost of ownership of an operating system. Linux requires “more staffing resources and effort to match the reliability, availability and scalability” of high-end Windows 2000 servers, said McIsaac.

Integration Costs

To adopt Linux in the enterprise environment, IT staffers must be able to integrate e-mail systems, office suite software and database software with Linux systems, a process that can lead to costly conflicts — as in the case of any IT environment that runs multiple operating systems.

Many analysts also point out that it is difficult for employers even to find IT staff trained to work with Linux. “One challenge right now is finding staff with the required skills quickly enough to keep up with booming demand for Linux,” Alison Merifield, spokesperson for The Training Camp, an IT skills certification provider, told LinuxInsider.

But the IDC survey showed that Linux provided users with a 6 percent cost reduction for Web serving workload, when compared with Windows 2000, over a hypothetical five-year period.

This conclusion seems to be the software’s single uncontested competitive advantage over Windows, an advantage that is causing Microsoft to scramble madly to reduce the resource requirements associated with using Windows servers.

Other Servers

Some enthusiasts are attempting to expand Linux’s strength in Web serving to other areas, such as file and print serving. But some analysts have reservations.

“Instead of using Linux to replace Windows file and print servers, IT organizations should consider either consolidating the number of servers or using a network-attached storage server for file sharing,” said McIsaac.

“We have yet to see significant projects that replace Windows with Linux for file and print,” he said. “A switch to Linux for file and print might lower purchase costs, but it would seriously affect the ease with which users can access services as well as increase management complexity, thereby driving up the total cost of ownership.”

However, this situation could change in the future. Giants like Sun Microsystems and IBM are throwing their full weight behind Linux, which could help move the software into the enterprise.

*Editor’s Correction Note: In the third paragraph of the original version of this article, we published the following quote from a party affiliated with Microsoft: “Addressing misperception around cost and security in particular … is a topic that Microsoft has been trying to quantify for customers.” We have removed the attribution by request.

5 Comments

  • TCO are certainly important, yet there are important topics that are difficult to quantify:
    Time.
    Using free software, you have the power to decide wether to upgrade or not. Doing an update might be peanuts if you’ve got the money, but can be a disaster if you don’t.
    This is what Microsoft demonstrated to the city of Munich (Germany).
    And the city of Munich has learned.
    Microsoft has just changed the rules of the game with their new licencing poliy. And there is pretty much nothing out there to prevent them from doing it again.
    And that’s a big advantage of Linux: If you are not happy with your supporter, find another one or do it by yourself. There is competition in the world of free software.

    • So, if all Linux programmers are superior, why did CERT just release another SendMail advisory? How did the GNU FTP server get hacked for monthes before anyone noticed? Why does Red Hat have 3x as many patches than XP since XP’s launch? Why did CERT release an advisory on OpenSSH? Also, who do you think pays for the few Linux studies that have been done? Why did Red Hat release todays record profits? Why has IBM claimed $1.2 billion in revenue tied to Linux? Why is Novell and Sun hoping to make money with a "free" software? Why did Forbes, CRN, and InformationWeek write news articles debunking some of the Linux myth? Finally, stop comparing the latest and greatest of Linux against NT4. If you are wanting to do comparisons, why don’t you look at the power of WS2003? Linux will have its place, but stop spreading FUD. Do the research, not the religion. See ya.

      • The software included with a linux distribution is 10 fold what is included with Windows. Most of the popular distributions have many thousands of packages available. Just take something like web servers. You might have 20-30 available to you. Of course there are going to be more patches; But you don’t run all 20 at the same time, so most of the time the patches won’t apply to you. The only way you could make a direct comparasion would be to look at the patches for every windows web server, ftp server, smtp server, etc. etc. Second, Sendmail HAS NEVER BEEN SECURE! Either has Wu-ftpd. There is a reason there are a million more secure alternatives. Like qmail, and exim and proftpd.
        Most popular linux distributions DO NOT set those up as the default servers, but do make them available to those who want them. Instead, they use the more secure alternatives and if there is a security hole will make available patches to their insecure couterparts if such a hole should arise. On top of that, windows doesn’t exactly give you the option to make your system totally secure. There are a lot of services you can not turn off without breaking the server. I have made custom linux distributions for web serving that the only services running were basically the web server itself. (By the way, the system was stripped to less than 20 MB and still fully functional, the whole OS runs in ramdisk).

        • "Most windows programmers and admins aren’t very good at what they do. Most have no idea even what a concept like sql injection is."
          *lol* *hack* *hack* *hack* – excuse my cough.
          OMG, I sure hope you arent using sql injection to demonstrate Linux (and may I dare say "your") superiority. SQL injection is a "database/programming issue and has little to do with operating system platforms
          *lol* *hack* *hack* *hack* – damn, that cough is back again
          I’d agree that there are a lot of bad windows programmer and admins out there. But that is not a fault of Windows itself. The advances Microsoft has made in IDEs and GUI technology has allowed a lot of ‘less then competent’ people to get into programming and administration. This is an unfortunate side effect of having good, low TCO technology. What allows ‘good’ people to do their job faster and more effectively, also allows less then desirables to ‘get by’.
          For the tens of thousands of ‘really good’ windows programmer out there, this ‘simpler to use’ technology allows them to write applications quicker, easier and in a more maintainable fashion than any other platform. This also contributes to low TCO.
          Linux is experiencing much the same phenomena as Windows. Linux is becoming a script kiddy haven… many ‘Linux Admins’ learn to run this or that pre-made, automated script that comes pre-installed in the distribution. If stuck, they turn to one of the 100s of Linux How-To FAQs and blindly follow it. Many Linux ‘gurus’ I’ve met would run in fright if faced with VI and a file in the /etc directory. Linux used to take some brains but it is marginally harder than a typical Windows box to setup and maintain now days.
          If a company wants low TCO of ownership, Windows fits the key. If a company wants security and stability then they install a REAL operating system like *OpenBSD*. Why anyone would waste their time and money with a ‘not spectacular at anything’ O/S, like Linux, is beyond me.

  • Take these things into consideration:
    A)Who pays for the studies and who are these "experts". Further investigation shows many of these studies are funded by Microsoft.
    B)The quality of the IT staff. I’m a Linux admin and programmer. I do my job very well. If someone wants me, they are going to have to pay for me. But, in return, my code and systems are secure, fast, and reliable. I’ve never had a production Linux machine of mine have to be rebooted two times in the same month. I doubt highly that most windows machines can go a month without a reboot. Whilst most of my machines stay up for months and only need to be reboot to update the kernel. Most windows programmers and admins aren’t very good at what they do. Most have no idea even what a concept like sql injection is. Go to google and type login.asp and you’ll find thousands of asp coded login screens that don’t check for meta characters.
    login: hehe’ or 1=1–
    to prove this. How often do you patch your windows machine and it breaks it? How much does that cost spending all day with rescue disks trying to figure out what the patch broke. This reliablity is true of most Unix systems. I can optimize all the code on my machine to run at blazing speeds. I have the option to put up to four popular jounald filesystems depending on my needs. Yes, a windows only environment may be cheaper, but then again, I’d much rather drive an Acura than a Kia.

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