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Why Linux will Dominate the Future of Servers

George Weiss, Gartner’s open-source analyst, recently said that Microsoft Windows will not suffer irreparable damage on the server side at the hands of Linux over the next five years. He’s right. Microsoft will fall flat on its face all by itself, and Linux will pick up afterwards.

It’s very simple.

What does any business want from servers today?

Go, ahead, take a look at the latest server software and hardware news, I’ll wait for you.

What did you see? Well, I’ll tell you.

You saw news about the latest multiple-core chips. You saw the latest thing in inexpensive blades. And, you saw endless stories about virtualization.

What do all these things have in common? They’re all about packing the most IT firepower into the fewest possible, inexpensive servers.

Financial math makes it easy. You can pay a lot of money to run many instances of an operating system on a lot of different servers, or you can pay a lot less to run multiple operating system instances on a few of them.

You save on hardware, you save on management costs, heck, you even save on your electrical bill. That last one, by the way, is not small potatoes when you add in not just the power for the machines, but the cost of the air-conditioning to keep them happy.

So, what does all this have to do with Windows and Linux? To get the most out of these multi-cored server blades you need virtualization — and that’s the key.

You see, Linux has virtualization baked in. Microsoft doesn’t.

Xen is already in SLES 10 (SUSE Linux Enterprise Server) and it’s scheduled to be in the forthcoming RHEL 5 (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) come December, 2006. There are also other ways to bring virtualization to Linux, such as SWsoft’s Virtuozzo and its open-source little brother, OpenVZ.

Of course, Microsoft also has virtualization: Microsoft Virtual Server. For that matter, Microsoft is working with XenSource as well, these days.

What’s different is that Microsoft’s core business model assumes that a single operating system will run on a computer with one or more processors. Increasingly, however, CPUs not only have multiple cores, but thanks to virtualization they can also run multiple operating systems, and, with containers, multiple instances of applications.

Brent Callinicos, Microsoft’s corporate VP for worldwide licensing, announced in 2005 that Microsoft would start letting customers pay for the virtual operating systems and applications they actually use, instead of idle copies sitting on hard drives.

Only a few months later, though, Microsoft backed off of that plan. The company instead will now let users of its forthcoming Enterprise Edition of Windows Server 2003 R2 run up to four instances of the operating system at no additional charge.

The Linux companies? You can eat as much as you want, run as many instances as you like.

It’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s close to their model. The Linux businesses pull this off because they have a service model, not a sales business model. Red Hat, for example, wants you to buy service subscriptions to Red Hat Network and all its other goodies, not buy or rent the code itself.

I see no signs that Microsoft will be changing its way of doing business. I’m not sure they could, now, even if they wanted to. The end result will be that running Linux will be so much cheaper than running Windows that by 2011 Windows will be on its way out of the data-center.

People will talk about Linux having shoved Windows out. And, there will be some truth to that. The real reason for the sea-change, though, will be that Microsoft’s way of doing business can’t scale with virtualization, whereas Linux’s way can. It’s that simple.

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