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Linux, Windows to win war over data center

Yikes! It's really happening. Analysts report that the shift toward Linux and Windows dominance in the data center has begun.

CHICAGO -- Like it or not, within the next five years, data centers will be running most of their applications on Linux and Windows. If this thought made you shudder a year ago, chances are your take is somewhat different now. Statistics prove a growing number of shops are already increasing their use of the operating systems.

You're likely one of those shops.

The mainframe has a maturity that's superior to Windows and Linux. If that someday changes, that would be great.
Rick Ranieri
Data center managerExelon Corp.

It'll happen slowly, but Linux and Windows will become increasingly important to the data center as the operating systems become more mature, reliable and continue to make good economic sense, said Carl Greiner, senior vice president of technology research services for Meta Group of Stamford, Conn. In fact, while Linux and Windows account for about 35% of data center capacity today, within the next few years, that number will reach 67%.

And they'll be running on Intel platforms, said Greiner, who spoke Wednesday at TechTarget's Data Center Decisions 2004 conference.

"This is about simplicity, cost and economics," he said.

Despite apparent disdain for Windows and limited interest in Linux among data center managers, a growing number of data centers are using Intel servers running Linux and Windows. They're doing it for a number of reasons, but mostly because of cost.

Greiner said annual price/performance improvements move at a rate of 15% to 20% on mainframes, for example, but about 30% to 40% on Intel platforms running Windows or Linux. In addition, platforms using RISC- and CISC-based technology can be as much as five times more expensive than an Intel platform.

This is a volume game, he said, and Intel has the volume. As a result, Intel will dominate the data center by 2007.

Platforms, such as the mainframe, are just too expensive, said Greiner, and data center managers are finding it increasingly more difficult to justify the cost of some platforms and the operating systems.

"It's the juggernaut that will shape the data center," he said.

The message debunks IBM's theory that data center managers are tired of server sprawl and will increase spending on mainframes and other servers, such as the iSeries, in an effort to consolidate systems.

But Greiner sees something entirely different happening.


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"We're seeing more and more apps being deployed on Windows," Greiner said. "Other platforms will account for less and less of a percentage of overall computing."

According to a recent TechTarget survey of IT professionals, 30% said that Windows already dominates their data center. Another 45% said Windows was fine for some applications, but not as the core of their data infrastructure.

The survey also found that currently in about 80% of the shops surveyed, less than 10% of their applications are running Linux. By 2005, the number of shops expecting to run more than 10% of their applications on Linux will increase by nearly 20%.

Research group Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., just released a report that backs Greiner, too. The report found Windows, by far, carries the biggest chunk of the server market. Linux actually saw the most year-to-year revenue and volume growth with more than 1 million servers shipping in 2003 -- that's a 69.7% increase in year-to-year growth and 2% in quarter-to-quarter growth. Despite the rapid increase in Linux sales, however, its revenue accounted for only 8.7% of the pie and about 14.7%.

Threat of Microsoft's dominance in the data center is nothing new. During last year's Data Center Decisions conference, analysts from Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., as well as Gartner, predicted a rise in Windows usage. But the user reaction was different last year, with many attendees voicing outrage at the thought, and accusing analysts of talking only to chief information officers and not the grunts who have to work with the operating system. One manager even referred to Windows as the "ugly stepchild of a handicapped operating system."

But this year, attendee reaction to Greiner's predictions was less reactionary and more accepting. Some appeared to have admitted defeat and were now just trying to make the best of it. It's as if the shock of it all simply wore off.

Data center manager Bill McCallister of JohnsonDiversey Inc., Sturtevant, Wis., said his iSeries shop is starting to move more of its smaller, less critical apps to Windows running on Unix systems, a management decision based on cost, McCallister isn't thrilled about it, but he's intent on being optimistic that it will be the right decision for the company in the long run.

"It will probably all be fine, but the jury is still out," he said. "We'll just wait and see."

While Rick Ranieri, data center manager for Exelon Corp., a utility company based in Chicago, sees more shops increasing their Windows- and Linux-based apps, including his own, he said Greiner's predictions failed to separate the type of applications being run on Windows and Linux.

Perhaps more companies are moving less critical applications to Windows or Linux, but he doubts many are moving critical applications, such as financials, over to those platforms.

"The mainframe has a maturity that's superior to Windows and Linux," he said. "If that someday changes, that would be great."

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