Even a discussion on religion and politics might well include mention of operating systems when a Linux user is in the room. The enterprise has quietly been adopting Linux, first on hidden-away servers but then in the open and even on the desktop. Ignoring ideological debates that intervene when the subject of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) enters the picture, let's cut to the chase and look at financial reasons for adopting Linux. After all, it all boils down to "TCO" (Total Cost of Ownership), doesn't it?
At even a casual glance it is quickly apparent that there are very few enterprise-level organizations running only Linux. For that matter, there are equally few that are 100 percent Windows or fully Unix or anything else, given constraints in available applications. A quick example for some may be the use of Linux (with Asterisk) on their telephone systems, but for any number of reasons, the larger an enterprise is, the more likely it will be a mixed environment. This set of reasons to use Linux is therefore a case for a balance of systems that is heavily weighted toward Linux. And there is a compelling financial argument for the use of Linux as the default solution in the enterprise.
Think the argument in this article is a load of hooey? Believe that it's the most accurate examination of the Linux in the enterprise? Be sure to read the other viewpoint in Eight Reasons Not to Use Linux in the Enterprise.
Lower Licensing Costs
The first consideration is the most obvious. Under the GPL (GNU General Public License), Linux is available without licensing cost. Also, commercial packages or distributions are available from companies like Red Hat and the Novell-owned SuSE. Purchased this way, the operating system is typically bundled with additional applications and some level of vendor support. Practically speaking, some cost is typically attached up front. Still, it is generally considered fairly self-evident that such costs will be lower on a per-seat or per-processor basis than for Windows or most commercial Unix systems.
Avoid Vendor Lock-In
Vendor lock-in occurs when a customer becomes dependent on specific vendor for products or services and cannot change vendors without substantial migration costs. Brian Stevens, CTO of Red Hat, says the client is clearly in the driver's seat. "[The IT Department] needs to be in control, whether it's problem resolution or vendor selection. Linux or open source puts them back in control - vendors can assist or get out of the way. Linux is very empowering for IT. Vendors perform or IT can take the complete stack and move it." With a move from a given Linux environment, it may be that migration costs could be triggered by a move to a substantially different system, but within the variety of Linux distributions and the available commercial support options, changes can be made with relative ease, should the need arise.
Redirect Funds into Salaries
Within the blend of costs summarized as TCO, the use of Linux tends to shift finances spent on licensing costs into other areas - personnel is most typical, whether internal or outsourced. R. Scott Belford, founder of the Hawaii Open Source Education Foundation (HOSEF), observes that savings in licensing costs alone can pay a salary, meaning that the dollars spent remain in the local economy. Rainy Day Software President and CTO Scott Toderash agrees, explaining that spending money on personnel, whether internal or external, is always more beneficial than spending on licensing costs.
Support costs have long been considered a hindrance in migrating to Linux, but this perception has steadily woven its way into the realm of misconception. Belford suggests today the opposite may be true. He put the question to a class assembled for a lecture he was giving at the University of Hawaii, and the anecdotal data gleaned there supported his assertion. Toderash agrees, saying that every technical person will present himself as "knowing" Windows, but to find someone with the requisite level of expertise is no more or less difficult than it is for Linux.