Costing Linux in the enterprise

Misleading and simple cost benefit arguments and uncertainty expressed by many IT managers have not prevented Linux finding its “sweet spots” in 52 per cent of Australian organisations, according to Phil Sargeant, research director, servers and storage at Gartner.

“I’ve spoken to hundreds and hundreds of users, and their questions have been fairly basic: where do you use Linux, what are the vendors doing, and will it actually save some money,” Sargeant said, speaking in Sydney at the Gartner Open Source Revealed 2003 conference earlier this month.

With the exception of the press, Sargeant said he hasn’t had many questions about the SCO (kernel code ownership) issue at all.

Adding that he may be going out on a limb, Sargeant predicted that by “sometime” in 2004, 90 per cent of Australian organisations “knowingly” or “unknowingly” will have some open source software within their IT portfolio. This happens “unknowingly”, observed fellow speaker Geoff Lawrence, Australia and New Zealand regional manager Linux sales and marketing, IBM, because often Linux code is bundled in as the Web serving part of a mid-range or mainframe deal, for example. Linux also ships as embedded code, for instance, within a Wyse thin-client terminal.

Gartner recently polled organisations across the Asia-Pacific region and found Australia to be a leading adopter with some 52 per cent of organisations surveyed saying they were “already using Linux”. Taiwan was just ahead with 54 per cent, but South Korea, Singapore, India and China lagged with 41 per cent, 31 per cent, 46 per cent and 20 per cent deployment rates respectively. Because of the emphasis seen in Chinese government statements on Open Source and Microsoft, Sargeant was surprised by the relatively low adoption in the most populous nation.

The survey’s sectoral breakdown for Australia showed prominence in Education, where some 83 per cent of organisations used Linux. Close behind was communications with 80 per cent, followed by government (48 per cent), manufacturing (42 per cent) and finance (29 per cent).

While these statistics suggest a dominant presence for Linux, Sargeant noted that the survey question, “what is the percentage of servers you’ve deployed Linux on?” yielded the low overall result of less than 5 per cent.

“The sweet spots for enterprise deployment remain the less complex edge of the network areas, typically things like Web servers, caching servers, VPNs, firewalls, and Domain Name Servers (DNSes).

“Everybody thinks that people are leaving Windows, but most of the defection has been from low-end Unix,” he said, pointing out that organisations which already had Unix skills find Linux very accessible.

No Gartner presentation is complete without the “hype cycle” curve with which Sargeant traced Linux’s progress as having climbed the peak of inflated expectations and through the trough of disillusionment to find a place on the “slope of enlightenment” with many organisations now considering what can and can’t be done with Linux. However, complicated the tale of the curve in saying that actual maturity depends on precisely which type of Linux and potential deployments you were talking about — whether it’s Linux on the desktop (now at a peak of hype), Linux on IA 32 as Web infrastructure (now on the plateau of productivity), in technical clusters (on the slope of enlightenment) or Linux on IA 64 (which is heading for the trough) or Linux for complex MC (method call) workloads (still in early ‘technology trigger’ days).

Sargeant concluded that clients’ current discussion about Linux in the enterprise was “not really about the OS or Linux per se, but really about having another choice rather than only the proprietary offerings”.

“[For clients] it’s not only about the cost of ownership, it’s to do with support and standards, not Red Hat versus United Linux, it is about Microsoft licensing practices,” he said. ‘The licensing issue has driven a wedge between Microsoft and some customers but we see that decreasing as we move forward.”

Sargeant’s recommendations included expanding Linux into larger applications during the period 2004 to 2006, and then extending it into back-end database applications by 2008. He also recommended that IT managers stick to one or two Linux distributions (possibly SuSe and Red Hat) to simplify support issues. Other distributions such as Red Flag and TurboLinux should be considered for remote geographies; for instance, throughout Asia. Also, he noted that IT managers and CIOs shouldn’t rely on TCO comparisons for complex environments where extensive applications migrations apply, and to only expect better ISV support once Linux standards, distributions and releases stabilise and consolidate. Finally, he said, where a better application choice exists for Windows the cost differences will not justify customising a Linux solution.

Sargeant added that there was need to develop a detailed understanding and run workshops on what is permissible with Open Source and GPL licensed products. Other intellectual property protection and compliance initiatives include creating an internal review policy and an approval board covering all code moving in and out of the enterprise, and prohibiting the movement of any such code without approval. w

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