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1 in 5 servers will ship with Linux

Submitted by Peter on Wed, 2010-12-22 22:25

1 in 5 servers shipping with Linux is a stupid prediction by a local publication at a time when far more servers use Linux. Forget the predictions for 2011. Read the truth.

The actual prediction is 1 in every 5 x86 servers shipped in Australia will run Linux. There is almost nothing outside of X86 servers except the Sun Sparc and some IBM servers. Sun replaced Sparc with Intel x86 across the bulk of their range. IBM Power servers died when Apple abandoned the Power chip.

So x86 is 99.99% of servers. Small appliances, NAS devices, firewalls, etc, are the next market in both volume and dollar terms. Appliances all run Linux or Unix. For those devices, Linux and Unix are interchangeable. Only the license, Linux is GPL while NetBSD/FreeBSD Unix uses the truly free BSD licence, is different. When you go up to IBM mainframe servers, a large percentage are running virtual machine software with thousands of copies of Linux underneath.

So Linux is on most servers with most servers being x86. Why would Australia have 4 out of 5 servers shipping without Linux?

The first reason is that Windows is supplied cheap with new equipment. Many people buy a computer with Windows on it then scrap Windows and install Linux over the top. While this is rare for notebooks and desktops, it is common on servers. The maintenance problems and costs from Windows are too great to bother with Windows for a Web server or any other common server use. You really only need Windows server for Exchange and you only need one of them. One Windows server among perhaps 20 servers. The thing is, after some competitive shopping for servers, the cheapest server probably has Windows included. It is cheaper to buy the machine with Windows then scrap Windows.

A lot of servers in Australia ship without an operating system. You select the components. The supplier assembles your selection. You add Linux after the server arrives. The server is never listed as shipping with Linux, instead it is listed as Windows compatible.

A lot of Australian Linux servers are desktops with Windows included in the original purchase. Windows is a multiple application operating system. Linux is commonly used for one specific purpose. A Linux server might be only a print server or only a NAS or only a firewall. You do not need a massive server for a dedicated purpose. You take a desktop optioned up with extra disks to form a RAID device. You overwrite the original free ($20) copy of Windows home edition with Ubuntu desktop or server edition. The cheap server then works perfectly for the one dedicated task. During the 3 years the server lasts, because modern disks have a 3 year guarantee, you save 2 times $150 or more on Windows upgrade fees and you save several hours or days of mucking about with licensing issues.

Australians seem to use Windows out of proportion to the requirement for Windows. In reality the cost of the Windows operating system is so low compared to the productivity of Australian IT workers that converting to a free operating system is not cost effective. The cost of learning a different operating system is greater than the trivial cost of upgrading Windows every couple of years. Australians are more likely to convert when they try to use a Windows based computer late at night and the stupid bl**dy Windows tells you to call Microsoft for permission to use the operating system you paid for last year. (As happened to me one time when a disk broke at 11:00 pm when I am working on a project for an American corporation and I have to reinstall on a new disk ready to exchange documents with the executives on the USA Eastern coast first thing in their morning.)

Today using Ubuntu Linux is easier than using Windows but converting from Windows to Linux is difficult if you use a lot of applications. Staying with Windows is always easier than switching to Linux when you use anything other than a few applications. If you earn a low wage then the cost of the operating system on your computer is significant compared to your wages but your employer is more likely to replace your local applications with a web based system and you can use your ten year old Windows based computer for accessing the Web application.

Changing to Linux will not be a consideration until your old computer breaks and you need a new one. AT the time when you purchase a new computer, a computer with Windows preloaded may still be the cheapest and the total lack of security on Microsoft's cheapest Windows versions is not important when all your work is Web based.

That suggestion that only 1 out of 5 servers shipped in Australia with run Linux is only referring to the first minute when you initially start and test the server, not the remaining lifetime of the server after you install Linux. My estimate, based on observation, is 3 out of 5 servers run Linux. Some of those servers are labelled appliances or NAS devices but they are still servers and they run Linux or the similar FreeBSD with Linux steadily replacing FreeBSD.

Australians are not converting Windows servers to Linux. What they are doing is replacing Windows based servers with Linux based servers. With some servers lasting reliably for 5 or more years, the replacement is slow. If a server breaks earlier, there is a rush to replace the server and a Windows replacement is easier. The replacement then hangs around for many years. Linux uptake tends to be among new servers and cases where an existing server runs one application, the application is to be replaced with a totally new application, and the new application runs on Linux.

One real killer for Microsoft is the total cost of Windows plus IIS plus SQL Server. IIS is free because it competes with the free market leader Apache but IIS has greater support costs. SQL Server costs heaps of dollars and competes against the free PostgreSQL. Windows compared to Linux is less of an issue compared to SQL Server.

An SQL Server conversion to PostgreSQL is expensive. In most cases it is cheaper to stay with SQL Server. When you have to replace your application with a new application, your new application might give you the choice of SQL Server or PostgreSQL. At that point you jump ship to use PostgreSQL and free yourself from all those SQL Server upgrade fees.

Exchange is one Microsoft application that does not have a direct equivalent. Their Small Business Server is another problem. Microsoft Publisher is easily replaced by Scribus if you have only a few Publisher documents but a site with thousands of Publisher documents might never dig themselves out. The Microsoft product upgrade is almost always the easiest option in the short term. When something happens out of the ordinary, we switch to Linux.