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Economics and virtualization stunt Linux server growth

Linux server adoption has decreased somewhat in 2009, according to a recent survey. Virtualization and the economy are the chief reasons.

As the economy struggled in 2008, some IT pros thought Linux adoption and use would grow in enterprise data centers. After all, Linux is supposed to be the low-cost solution. A year ago, nearly half (47%) of the respondents to a reader survey said they expected to evaluate Linux for data center use, citing lower cost as the primary driver.

For more on the Data Center Decisions 2009 survey:
IT budgets take a hit

Blade server popularity cools

Hot-aisle/cold-aisle containment takes hold

Linux fans see opportunity in Windows 7 changeover

VM deployments on the rise
But at the end of the third quarter of 2009, things don't appear so rosy for Linux data center evaluation and deployment.

According to this year's "Data Center Decisions 2009: Purchasing Intentions Survey," the number of respondents saying that they use Red Hat Enterprise Linux decreased to 43% in 2009 from 48% in 2008. SUSE Linux Enterprise usage declined slightly as well to 20% from 21%, compared with the previous year. But use of Ubuntu Server Edition increased somewhat, 14% from 9%

With these numbers in mind, consider that 60% of respondents reported that they do not use and are not evaluating Linux on their servers this year, compared with 54% saying the same in 2008. The depressed economy is doubtless a factor, and Enterprise Management Associates analyst Steve Brasen, for one, was not surprised by the results.

"In general, every survey I have seen about IT purchases this year shows the numbers are down. Businesses just aren't buying as much equipment as they were last year," he said.
Businesses just aren't buying as much equipment as they were last year.
Steve Brasen,
analystEnterprise Management Associates

In addition, virtualization has caught on among respondents: 61% of respondents plan to expand their deployments of virtual machines.

"The impact of centralization for organizations is being driven by virtualization," said Brasen. "Instead of 10 servers, there might be one blade server that is virtualized. So the same amount of computing resources are being used but there are less physical implementations."

Brasen also predicts that, as cloud computing takes hold, things won't change much. This is especially true in the case of the Linux marketplace, because two big Linux markets are education and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

"Those two segments are the ones really looking to cloud deployment," said Brasen. "So rather than bringing in additional infrastructure internally they'll outsource to a cloud service provider and get their resources that way. But it doesn't mean a diminished use, just a diminished individual deployment." Red Monk analyst Michael Coté, agreed that all server numbers have agreed over the past six to eight months.

"The lack of server sales would cause … a decline in Linux installs," said Coté, who said, however that he did not have a good sense of multiyear historic numbers between servers. But, he said, with virtualization, the operating systems seem to matter less than the applications running on them.

Linux fans strike back
But some in the Linux trenches -- including several attendees of the recent LinuxCon 2009 in Portland -- Ore., disputed the findings.

Larry Price, a principal at Industrial Intellect LLC, in Eugene, Ore., attributed the results to a sampling error.

"People administering Linux aren't responding to the survey," said Price, who also cited the economy. In this era of shrunken IT staffs, fewer people have the time to respond , he said. While there were 920 respondents to the survey as a whole, 486 people responded to the question regarding use or evaluation of Linux servers.

Lance Albertson, an infrastructure architect at the Oregon State University Open Source Lab suspected that virtualization might reduce the number of respondents who evaluate Linux.

"If the question is, Areyou planning to buy more Linux?,' I'm not sure that people would say yes if they were going to add another virtual machine," said Albertson.

Fewer migrations of applications from Windows to Linux
According to the survey, migrations from Windows to Linux have also slowed. In 2008 27% of respondents reported that they would not move applications from Windows to Linux, and that has number grew to 34% in 2009.

Again LinuxCon attendees thought tighter IT purse string budgets might be the issue. "With tight budgets, companies may be more focused on 'keeping on keeping on' than on undertaking migration projects," said Price. "Or the migrations may have already occurred."

With tight budgets, companies may be more focused on 'keeping on keeping on.'
Larry Price,
principalIndustrial Intellect LLC

Albertson assumed that some companies may just be leaving the applications that are Windows-specific on a Windows virtual machine instance on a server – and that host server could run Linux. "That's one of the things that people do with virtualization," said Coté. "Why go through the trouble of migrating things? Once you start virtualizing things, the OS seems to matter less and less. The really critical layer becomes the hypervisor."

But while the OS seems to matter less, performance still wins the day in some organizations. What Albertson and others at LinuxCon noted is that data centers may not need to buy more Linux servers if they can virtualize the ones they already have to handle their production needs. With a leaner OS environment, Linux still gets points from the performance-minded system administrators (especially those attending a Linux-focused event).

Back to survey overview.

Between June and September of 2009, conducted the Data Center Decisions 2009 Purchasing Intentions Survey. Subscribers were contacted by email and invited to participate. For this survey, we had a total of 920 respondents. The respondents identify themselves as IT managers, IT administrators, data center facility managers and IT executives. Respondents were primarily U.S.-based (43%), but the survey also included participants from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. More than half of respondents' organizations employ more than 1,000 workers, and more than 25% of the companies have more than 10,000 employees. Thank you to everyone who participated in this survey. Follow this link to the 2008 data center purchasing intentions survey.

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