Windows Trumps Linux in Key Areas, Yankee Group Finds
by Alex Woodie
You can add another report to your file on the ongoing war for SMB operating system supremacy between Windows and Linux. Earlier this week, the IT analyst firm Yankee Group unveiled a new report that says customers find Windows equal to or better than Linux in terms of quality, performance, and reliability. Despite any perceived shortcomings in Linux, Yankee found that 50 percent of the companies it surveyed are planning to deploy Linux.
Yankee Group's report, formally called "2005 North American Linux and Windows TCO Survey," seeks to compare the relative total cost of ownership (TCO) between the two platforms, and the feelings that users have about them. The non-sponsored study was conducted during February and March, and included two parts: a Web survey of 50 questions that about 600 people participated in, and more in-depth telephone and in-person interviews with about 24 enterprise accounts. Respondents range from administrators at smaller shops with only 100 users, to CIOs of companies with more than 100,000 users, across many major industries.
The survey found that Windows is, by far, the dominant network operating system in use at the large and small North American companies that were interviewed. Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 was used a whopping 73 percent of the time, followed by Linux with 15 percent, Unix with 6 percent, Novell NetWare with 4 percent, and "another open source distribution" at 2 percent.
Yankee Group found that most shops are using two or more operating systems, which isn't really surprising. What is interesting is that use of Linux is growing, and that Linux is now used nearly as often as a secondary operating system (in 60 percent of the shops) as Windows NT (62 percent), followed by Unix (35 percent), NetWare (16 percent), Apple's OS X (14 percent), and "some other operating system" (11 percent). More than one in ten of the companies interviewed are not using a second operating system.
In terms of future plans, the survey showed a majority (67 percent) of respondents planned to upgrade to Windows Server 2003.. However, Linux is making gains. A substantial number of shops (33 percent) said they planned to deploy Linux alongside Windows. (Red Hat is the Linux distribution most shops [45 percent] plan to upgrade to, followed by Novell's SuSE with 26 percent.) In terms of upgrading the primary operating system, 25 percent said they would choose some form of Linux, 11 percent said they would choose Unix, 8 percent said they would choose NetWare version 6.5 (which is pretty good considering that only 4 percent of the respondents said NetWare is currently their primary network operating system), and "some other OS" with 4 percent.
Now that the hard facts about current OS marketshare and future OS upgrade plans are out of the way, let's take a look at observations about the relative quality, performance, and reliability of Linux and Windows. While Yankee Group's methods are undoubtedly scientifically sound, the results about people's attitudes toward Windows and Linux should be taken with a grain of salt, as should the results of any opinion poll. Because the report only seeks to measure what people think or believe about the respective operating systems--opinions that are colored in many different ways, including their own experiences and things they read in the press or hear at the water cooler--the results may not accurately reflect the underlying truths (if there are any) about the actual strengths and weaknesses of these operating systems.
With that said, Yankee still managed to distill its survey into hard numbers, and here's what it found: 26 percent of Windows Server 2003 users found that OS just as good as Linux in terms of performance and reliability, while another 44 percent of Windows shops found their OS to be better.
Despite any perceived performance or reliability benefits for Windows, Linux is gaining converts, particularly among Unix and NetWare shops. About 16 percent of the respondents said that Linux deployments will decrease their use of Unix, while 14 percent of the respondents said that Linux deployments will decrease their use of NetWare.
In terms of perceived security, Linux held an edge over Windows in every measured category, which includes user systems, domain controllers, and Web, file, application, and database servers. However, the results were not as bad for Windows as you might think. While Linux scored an 8 or better in every category (where 1 is not secure and 10 is very secure), Windows took home a 6 or a 7 in every category.
Linux also has less cost associated with downtime than Windows among those same categories. The group asked respondents to estimate the average hourly cost of downtime for their Windows and Linux systems, and found the Windows systems substantially more expensive than Linux. It cost users an average of about $1,900 for every hour of downtime for a Windows user system, ranging up to $5,600 per hour of downtime for a Windows application server.
While Windows downtime hurts companies more, it typically takes longer for users to recover Linux servers from a security attack than for Windows servers. Time to recovery ranges from an average of about 13 hours to recover a Linux-based domain controller to 19 hours to recover a Web server, according to the report.
In terms of ease of installation, the group found that Windows and Linux were equals, with 24 percent reporting some similar "minor technical glitches" in both OS deployments, 12 percent saying their Linux deployment was easier, and 10 percent saying their Linux deployment was more difficult than Windows. Not surprisingly, Linux deployments were considerably less expensive than Windows deployments, with 49 percent saying Linux was anywhere from 5 percent to 50 percent cheaper than Windows to deploy, compared to only 8 percent of users saying Windows was cheaper (in terms of software, hardware, and training).
Yankee Group also asked respondents about intellectual property (IP) indemnification, which was the topic of a previous study, called "Indemnification Becomes Open Source's Nightmare and Microsoft's Blessing" where it said Microsoft held a substantial an edge over Linuxes (see "Microsoft's Strong IP Protections Give Windows an Advantage"). On this topic, Yankee Group found 40 percent of respondents had done a thorough cost-risk analysis of Linux IP indemnification, 37 percent had not, and 24 percent said they wouldn't purchase third-party indemnification.
In conclusion, the Yankee group found that Linux and Windows are stabilizing in quality and becoming commodity products. "While researching the market traction for each vendor, we discovered that server operating systems are largely commoditized," says one of the authors of the report, Laura DiDio, a senior analyst with Yankee. "Corporate users report a high degree of satisfaction with the baseline performance and reliability of all of the major server operating systems--Linux, Windows and Unix."
In terms of Linux, the Yankee Group found the open-source OS is increasingly being deployed, but there is a cost to that popularity, in terms of a sharp increase in security attacks, a growing patch management problem, IP indemnification issues to deal with, and the possibility of "forking" of the Linux OS and possible compatibility issues that may bring.
On the Windows side, Yankee Group found that Windows Server 2003 "has noticeably hardened" since 2003 (and it just got better; see "Windows Server 2003 SP1 Now Available" in this issue), that TCO has improved, and that nearly 9 out of 10 rate Windows performance as good or better than Linux in comparable configurations. What's more, Yankee Group commended Microsoft for steps it's taken to ease patch management, and declares that "Microsoft licensing is more economical than ever." If there was one nit Yankee picked, it was Microsoft's failure to deliver a storage system, which it said opened up an opportunity for Linux appliances.