Enterprises tied to single vendors that supplied their entire computing infrastructure suffered for years. Companies were often at the mercy of one or two vendors for everything from disk drives to databases and applications. IT buyers didn't have many product choices and paid dearly for the technology to which they were bound. Microsoft is a modern, albeit software-only, version of the same condition.
But in the 1980s, a once-experimental operating system began to change the way IT planned and bought technology. Unix came to the forefront by promising application and database portability, as well as a choice of vendors for all levels of hardware and software. But as time wore on, IT customers found themselves bound to selected vendors because of differences between flavors of Unix. Hardware choice became limited, and IT was often forced to accept multiple versions of Unix in order to have the best possible platform for its various applications.
For that more than any other reason, this is why Linux is succeeding in the enterprise. Linux is fulfilling the broken Unix promises of hardware and software vendor neutrality, application and infrastructure portability, and the competitive agility afforded by using the best combination of technologies.
At SuSE, we refer to our product line as the "Universal OS" because of the many different platforms on which it operates. The same Linux kernel, utility and application code operates on large mainframe systems and laptops alike. Enterprise IT customers can buy the best in servers, storage and accessories to support their applications and ensure the most cost-effective solutions for IT deployments.
One expected side effect of Linux Everywhere is that IT staffs are now achieving a consolidated set of skills. Many CIOs who are SuSE Linux customers report that skill-set consolidation is a primary goal and that wide deployment of Linux is helping to achieve this. These CIOs tell us that their staffs have both a broader and a deeper understanding of Linux technology than they did when they specialized on certain Unix flavors or proprietary operating systems.
How was Linux able to succeed when Unix had such promise? There may be a million reasons, but a few are certainly the most prominent:
- Rapid evolution: Linux isn't bound by the R&D budget or executive vision of any one company. Linux evolves faster than any other operating system. Back when Linux became viable for enterprise adoption, enterprises themselves gave their developers permission to work on Linux and other open-source projects. This has accelerated Linux evolution and guided development efforts to suit IT needs.
- Industry support: The industry is backing Linux because it opens more market share and new opportunities. With Unix, there was little competition for hardware platform choice -- you were limited to the Unix developed by the hardware vendor. With infrastructure tools such as databases, the software vendor had to work with many different Unix variants, and each software vendor jockeyed for a position of favor with hardware suppliers. Linux is eliminating this, giving hardware and software vendors alike more flexibility with less development effort. This helps IT by providing more choices and lower costs.
- Agility: The Universal OS makes IT agile, able to choose the best and most cost-effective platform for every application. Some choices are surprising. Many mainframe customers are installing SuSE Linux in virtual machine partitions and consolidating outboard servers (one SuSE customer reports consolidating more than 70 Windows NT servers onto a few Linux partitions on its z900).
- Cost containment: We can't forget cost, especially in these trying economic times. Linux helps contain IT costs both during technology acquisition and for ongoing operations. The Robert Frances Group analyzed the total cost of ownership for the implementation, operation and support of Linux, Solaris and Windows over a period of three years and discovered that Linux was the least expensive platform to deploy and operate: about half the cost of Windows and an eighth the cost of Solaris in the first year.
Enterprises have fully embraced Linux as a server platform. A recent CIO.com survey shows that 53% of enterprises plan on Linux being their predominant operating environment by 2005. The benefits of cost, choice and competitive agility are too compelling to ignore.
Linux demand in the enterprise is now entering a new phase as CTOs evaluate Linux as an alternative desktop. SuSE Linux has made the desktop experience under Linux ready for end users, and CIOs are ordering Linux desktop products for their IT department desktops (in part to accelerate skill-set consolidation in their staffs).
Unix led the way toward a universal OS, and Linux is fulfilling that promise.
Juergen Geck is chief technology officer at SuSE Linux AG.