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» Enterprise IT Planet » Storage » Storage Features

Survey Reveals Churn in Server OS Market

By Drew Robb
March 14, 2011

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Frodo versus Lord Sauron; Darth Vader versus Luke Skywalker: popular culture is certainly filled with titanic struggles between dueling forces. At times the battle for which OS would win the server market, Windows or Linux, has been seen in a similarly over-heated light.

But beware a simplistic black and white viewpoint. Apple, after all, has been portrayed as a bearer of the sword of truth for decades. Yet its recent overwhelming iPhone/iPod/iPad success has caused some to lose faith. You can’t be good if you are the biggest technology company in the world. Thus some believe that Apple may have moved over to the Dark Side – and so it might eventually go for Linux as a server OS if it becomes as popular as some expect.

Ten years back, Linux advocates squarely cast the open source OS as the good guy in the white hat. But then just about everyone in the x86 field used a Microsoft system inside their servers. Only a relative handful fiddled with Linux.

What a difference a decade makes. According to the latest survey from Gabriel Consulting Group (GCC) of Beaverton, OR, Linux has moved from the fringes into the mainstream.

“Linux is used to some degree by 90% of GCG’s enterprise IT respondents, and the majority see their usage increasing significantly,” said Dan Olds, an analyst at GCG. “This shows just how far Linux has come in the last decade.”

If such trends continue, perhaps we shall eventually see the roles reversed with Linux not just being cool, but also having by far the largest market share. If so, it will be interesting to see if popular opinion turns against it – maybe even casting Linux as the villain of the piece. Wouldn’t that be an interesting scenario!

Survey Results

The GCG survey asked a total of 199 organizations (ranging from large enterprise to SMB) to specify which x86 operating systems they are currently using and how they expect their usage to change over time. It focused on Microsoft, Linux and Solaris64 from Oracle (formerly Sun Microsystems).

The 90% figure for Linux usage is up from 84% in the previous year’s study. Clearly Linux continues to gather steam. But delving deeper into the numbers shows that Linux doesn’t completely dominate the market. 10% of respondents, for example, don’t use Linux at all. Olds said these tend to be tiny data centers in very small organizations that tend to run Microsoft OSes exclusively. And while most comanies run some Linux, only 28% said that Linux usage dominates on the server side, i.e. they run Linux on more than 50 percent of their servers.

The GCG survey looked at future usage expectations. “Customers in our survey will be using a lot more Linux in the near future,” said Olds. “Only 10% anticipate using less Linux, while more than half say that they will be using more or a lot more Linux over time.”

He also noted that one year ago, only 42% said they’d be using more Linux, and 14% said less.

The Empire Strikes Back

So all this means that Microsoft is losing, right? Not necessarily.

GCG reports that Microsoft Server operating systems continue to be used heavily. 60% of respondents run Microsoft environments on most of their servers, and 87% have at least some systems running Microsoft products. The number of enterprises not using any Microsoft server OS has shifted from 6% in 2009 to 13% in 2010.

Additionally, the number expecting to reduce their Windows Server operating system usage in the next year has risen from 20% to 24%.

“A couple of data points don’t necessarily mark a trend, but it does bear watching,” said Olds. On the positive side for Windows, “26% see themselves deploying more Windows Server OSes in their organization; about half of them see usage staying at the same level.”

The bottom line in the server OS market: the vast majority of users have coexisting Windows and Linux environments and that will continue to be the case for some time to come.

There does appear to be unrelenting progress in Linux server adoption in the enterprise. According to IDC, revenue from Linux server sales grew 29.3% ($2.5 billion) quarter over quarter in Q4 2010. That means that Linux servers now represent 17.0% of all server revenue with more than 450,000 units shipping in one quarter. Over the same period, though, Microsoft Windows server revenue increased 16.8% ($6.3 billion) and now represent 42.1% of the market with 1.5 million server shipments, which is a record high or the Windows server OS.

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