Linux Comes of Age
Over the past decade, Linux has enjoyed a steady rise to fame. The adoption of Linux as a corporate computing platform has increased, garnering market-share from competing operating systems. Due to Linux’s novel development model – “open source” with a decentralized development team – many upper-level IT executives were once wary of implementing Linux enterprise-wide. However, after years of pilot and clandestine projects that exceeded total cost of ownership (TCO), stability and performance expectations, Linux has proven that the open source development model yields a robust, stable and adaptable computing environment.
Low TCO, Technical Merit and Removal of Barriers Spur Growth
Linux’s rapid market penetration derives not only from its inherent technical merit, but also from its low TCO and the ability of both the Linux development team and Linux affiliated companies to remove barriers and perceived weaknesses.
Linux is renowned for its level of stability, security and technical value, which has driven its rise to dominance in mission-critical applications such as internet servers. Web administrators experience uninterrupted up-time, other than planned maintenance. Security gaps can be closed within hours of detection rather than days or weeks due to Linux’s open nature.
Another factor fueling Linux’s proliferation has been its low TCO, which has spurred growth in most areas of Linux while overall IT spending has stagnated. Market research firm Robert Francis Group compared the TCO for a similar implementation of three operating systems: Linux, Solaris from Sun Microsystems and Windows from Microsoft. The firm’s study found Linux to be the least expensive platform to operate and deploy. Over three years, companies paid $75,000 for Linux, $190,000 for Windows and $560,000 for Solaris.
Despite these advantages, Linux has had to overcome barriers that limited widespread implementation early on. For example, one technical drawback stemming from Linux’s relatively recent appearance was limited scalability. However, Linux developers have quickly made immense strides in SMP, clustering and 64-bit hardware platforms, which were possible due to Linux’s superior development pace. Bill Claybrook of the Aberdeen Group said that “[Linux] is being developed much faster than any other operating system — so many people are working on it with a common goal.”
Meanwhile, Linux versions of applications that are important across the enterprise have matured quickly and produced significant cost savings. A showcase example is the Apache Web server, which has long enjoyed a market-share of over 60%. Google utilizes Linux on its hundreds of thousands of web servers (some estimate over 450,000), and saves millions upon millions of dollars yearly. In 2001 Google’s then chief operations engineer, Jim Reese, stated that if the company had chosen a competing OS, “the seat licenses alone would be prohibitive.” At the time they only had 10,000 web servers.
Other sectors have only recently matured, and resulted in multiple solutions in each category. In the database management system (DBMS) sector, solutions have developed to the point that Bill Claybrook of Aberdeen labeled it “the killer app for Linux in the enterprise.” This moniker stems from the myriad DBMS options, from high-end systems such as Oracle and IBM’s DB2, to targeted niche solutions like MySQL and PostgreSQL. Likewise, in the systems management sector, major industry players support Linux, including Computer Associates, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and BMC Software.
The e-commerce sector has progressed to the point that Amazon.com acknowledges saving up to $17 million, or 25% of its quarterly technology costs, by switching to Linux from Sun’s Solaris Unix. This high-profile case significantly helped Linux to win a great deal of long-deserved legitimacy in the eyes of CIOs.
Governments Worldwide Give Linux a Push
Governmental actions have had a significant impact on the success of Linux. Like private entities, governments seek to reduce costs, especially during tight budget periods, but they also have public interest requirements that Linux fulfills more adequately than proprietary operating systems. Governments often find themselves in a difficult political situation when making massive, jurisdiction-wide IT investments with single vendors. These massive deals invite corruption and leave governments tied to the fate of individual vendors.
In response, governments worldwide have concluded that Linux’s lack of reliance on a single company and its open architecture result in more accountable, politically sound IT spending. Many nation-states are taking bold actions. The governments of Argentina, Brazil, China, Finland, France, Germany, India, Mexico, Peru, Spain, Taiwan and others have taken significant steps toward adopting Linux as their standard platform.
Furthermore, these countries, especially the less developed ones, view Linux as a vehicle for encouraging a more dynamic local software industry. They reason that Linux will allow them to build a local software industry that supplies custom applications in lieu of expensive proprietary ones from overseas.
The Big Picture: How Linux is Changing the Nature of IT
As mentioned previously, the number of IT professionals that see distinct advantages in Linux’s open-source development model has reached a critical mass. This critical mass is having two important effects. First, as more IT buyers learn of Linux’s rapidly growing feature set and disappearing barriers to implementation, their fear, uncertainty and doubt about the OS is decreasing. Second, the momentum of Linux is strong enough to force even the largest IT service providers to take the OS seriously. As a result, the possibility of reprisal towards smaller Linux providers from more dominant ones is diminished, and more products are therefore becoming available. Furthermore, even firms with competing, high-value products, such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems, have all been forced to acknowledge the advantages of Linux and move it to an increasingly central position in their product strategies.
As Linux penetration increases, many market observers are recognizing a gradual yet systemic change in IT due to the existence of Linux. These changes can be categorized as follows:
_Linux is democratizing the IT market by reducing costs and barriers to entry for
enterprises and by enabling more service providers to benefit from their efforts
_The decentralized, open source nature of Linux is empowering more individuals and
enterprises to meet their own needs than proprietary operating systems
_Because of Linux the value placed on open source and open standards is increasing
rapidly in the enterprise
_By stressing interoperability, Linux is eroding bastion-like “Unix-only” and “Windowsonly”
shops and fostering hybrid shops
Linux is democratizing the IT market
It is a fact that Linux costs less to implement and maintain than other operating systems, and its barriers to implementation are rapidly disappearing. That means that larger firms can do more with their finite IT resources, and smaller firms have access to basic IT services that are otherwise out-of-reach. This trend will continue, because the Linux model inherently seeks to find the most custom solution at the lowest possible price.
The democratization is occurring for service providers as well, opening doors for more players to get involved in the marketplace. Russell Pavlicek of InfoWorld commented that this trend is possible because with Linux “the profit goes to the complete solution provider, not the source of the building material.” In other words, when using Linux the cost of the solution provider’s tools are more commensurate with their true value.
Doc Searls, senior editor of Linux Journal, takes the analogy a step further. He likens the Linux market to a housing market where trees are scarce. In that market, a few companies control the supply of raw materials like lumber. He likens Linux to a group of companies that suddenly discover a new, inexhaustible supply of raw materials. This new supply reduces the cost of lumber but empowers custom solution providers such as home builders. The result is a greatly expanded market in which more people can afford the product.
Linux empowers individuals and enterprises to meet their own needs
Linux and open source development methods are changing the idea that the most valuable products come from the laboratories of large corporations that acquire patents for secret proprietary inventions. Their prevalent attitude of “Not Invented Here” excludes innovation just because it comes from somewhere else.
As an alternative, the Linux model is inherently decentralized, and it adopts innovations at all levels based purely on their merits. Due to open source, anybody can implement their own Linux-based innovation and share it with others. Doc Searls dubbed the Linux model “NEA. Nobody owns it, Everybody can use it, Anybody can improve it.”
The value of open source, open standards
Solutions that rely on open source and open standards allow multiple implementations from different vendors to meet the specialized needs of varied constituencies. As IT professionals come to realize how this aspect of Linux can be leveraged to their advantage, more solution providers are converting from proprietary to open source solutions. One example is Sony, historically a staunch advocate of proprietary formats, announced a version of Linux for use in digital home electronic devices, called the “open platform initiative.” In Sony’s eyes, the initiative maximized innovation, market potential and industry-wide collaboration.
Doc Searls has a similar insight. He commented how it’s “dawning on management that Linux and allied generica (e.g. Apache, PHP, Python, Perl) are more ‘standard’ and more likely to stay that way than anything from Microsoft.”
These and other parallel trends are occurring gradually but definitely over time. All of these trends confirm that Linux will continue to boldly change the face of corporate IT and also make an increasing impact on the desktop. As more and more barriers to implementation are removed and more IT managers learn about the advantages of Linux and low TCO, the trends shown here are likely to continue in favor of Linux. Even as companies release more advanced proprietary operating systems with massive marketing budgets, such Windows Vista and Solaris 10 from Microsoft and Sun Microsystems respectively, Linux continues to increase its market-share. The advantage is clearly Linux’s open source development model, which is out pacing the proprietary models of its competitors. Never before has such a dynamic model been tested, so it is not certain how far the OS’s developers can stretch Linux’s capabilities. If the recent past is any guide, the future is destined to be positive and successful for Linux.