Eight Reasons NOT to Use Linux in the Enterprise

When considering licensing costs, support, management tools, support and training, Windows and even Solaris make better financial sense than using Linux.

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If You're Not Well-Equipped, Windows Will Cost Less

For acquisition costs, Linux systems may often be the price-beater. In his February 2006 study, "Get the Truth on Linux Management," EMA's Mann saw acquisition costs-not including support-for Linux 10 percent that of Windows. For example, "For a 100-user Web application environment, a full Windows environment would be $60,000, while a fully open-source software one would be $6,000."

However, that doesn't include the costs of management tools. "In my opinion, it's easier to administer a pure Microsoft environment," says Mann. "That's why having Linux management tools make the difference... It's recognized that without management tools, Linux is harder to manage."

If you're not managing the server environment well-if you don't have the right management tools-Windows will be an easier system to manage and less expensive," states Mann. "Things to manage provisioning software distribution, patch management... There are a lot more sophisticated management tools for non-Linux environments, specifically Windows, also Unix and Solaris."

Tools for managing Linux and Windows can cost anywhere from zero to hundreds of thousands of dollars for systems like IBM Tivoli or CA Unicenter. "But for smaller environments, cheaper tools will do," Mann acknowledges.

Linux Staff May Cost More

"There's a significant difference in expertise level for staff to support the operating system," says Chris de Herrera, who runs the TabletPCTalk (TabletPCtalk.com) site, and an experienced small biz IT manager. "Windows needs less, Linux needs more."

With Windows, says de Herrera, "Every application is already precompiled, so once it's installed, generally it will run. With Linux, that may not be the case. Plus there are some special requirements for staff to understand and accomplish, since they are having to compile on a regular basis. They need to understand source code management and versioning, which is like DLL hell. Some apps require certain versions of libraries that conflict with other apps."

The experience difference, according to de Herrera, "starts bordering on a junior developer, not just someone doing system administration. Plus, the update process for installations in Linux can be somewhat complicated, depending on what update methods are being used. If you choose applications that don't support them, you have to do it by hand."

"Linux use requires a staff that's familiar with Linux integration and infrastructure," agrees Tom Henderson, president of ExtremeLabs (extremelabs.com). Henderson is an integrator with 25 years of experience (and principal operating systems reviewer for Network World (networkworld.com), an IDG subsidiary, as is CIO.com).

"If you don't have staff familiar with Linux's foibles-and there are a goodly number of them-then you'll need to either train staff or acquire talent," says Henderson. "Linux talent comes at occasionally very high prices for seasoned Unix/Linux/HP-UX/Solaris professionals that can manage the job."

According to EMA's Mann, "Linux administrators are more expensive; there are more Linux administrators making over $77,000-about 22 percent, versus 17 percent of Windows administrators."

Non-Linux Unixen May Be a Better Deal

It's easy to forget that Linux isn't the only non-Windows game in town for X86 hardware-Sun's Solaris, for example.

"There are some very hard costs around support for Solaris versus a commercial Linux distro," according to Sun's Hamilton. Solaris 10 costs, Hamilton says, are typically somewhat lower, like 10 percent to 50 percent or more versus Red Hat Linux.

Some of this can derive from specific features, such as Solaris' Fault Management Architecture. If a memory DIMM fails, "Solaris 10 will automatically reconfigure without requiring a reboot." While memory DIMMs don't fail that often, "If you're running a website with 100 or 1,000 servers, it can become a big concern," says Hamilton. For example, if you have 200 servers, at an off-site data center, "That could mean sending somebody in once a day."

Drivers, They Said

"Third-party support for hardware and drivers can be a concern, and Windows is often ahead here," says EMA's Mann.

"Hardware compatibility concerns aren't unique to Linux," points out Stephen O'Grady, principal analyst of Red Monk (redmonk.com), an analyst firm built on open source. Linux's hardware story is getting better, he says, but there are still issues, especially on the desktop side.

"Linux can suffer from a big cost when you look at drivers for anything but the most common items," says Alan Radding, an analyst at IndependentAssessment.com, who recently conducted a TCO analysis for retail systems. "If you're going to attach anything like credit card readers or point-of-sale devices, the cost of drivers can be a problem."

The Cost to Get There May Keep You Where You Are

Of course, TCO that ignores the cost to get there isn't really a "total."

"Key applications, such as Microsoft Exchange Server, can have high conversion costs, since e-mail, services and apps built on Exchange may need to be replaced, modified or reintegrated in a smooth transition," points out ExtremeLabs' Henderson.

Application availability can also be a showstopper, points out Red Monk's O'Grady. "There are decades of software built for Windows servers and desktops that aren't available for Linux or OS X, especially for small businesses. Something as simple as QuickBooks isn't available for the Linux platform."

The Answer Is Clear: It Depends

Avoiding Linux may make the most TCO sense. Or it may not.

The TCO consensus appears to be, "It depends"-on the nature of your IT environment, your industry, how much you're prepared to invest in the associated tools and training, how Linux/open-source savvy you already are.

Other factors may influence or drive the decision more than TCO. For example, open-source projects reduce up-front licensing costs, which make experimental deployments less expensive in their early stages; needs for "agility and flexibility"; and ROI trumping TCO. Further muddying the bean-counter waters, of course, are to what extent companies have meaningful TCO data, and that TCO data from the past will accurately predict future TCO decisions.

Admin costs may be a wash. But the costs of licensing, support, and ancillary and management tools, plus associated support, training and freebies, may make Microsoft or a vendor Unix your best TCO bet. Driver availability, may also steer you around the Penguin, or specific features may make Windows, Solaris or something else the TCO winner.

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