July 19, 2009
"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts."
-- Bertrand Russell

Why Enterprise Adoption of Linux Is Slow

Jan 23rd, 2009 | By Mike Dailey | Category: Linux and Open Source

The great NOS debate rages on in newsgroups, forums, and blog comments across the Internet. The two rival factions–those supporting Microsoft as the supreme network operating system and those supporting Linux as a viable and worthy alternative–continue to wage their respective holy wars, each declaring the other to be the antichrist of technology.

Each side has made some good points and each side, in my opinion, has also twisted the facts and figures to serve their own arguments and opinions. Whether you love Microsoft and hate Linux or Love Linux and despise Microsoft, the fact is that both operating systems are here to stay. Both operating systems have been adopted in the enterprise and both operating systems serve a purpose that the other is not able or capable of fulfilling to the extent required within the enterprise. With that said, lets turn our attention away from the war and to the reasons that Linux has not been more widely adopted in the enterprise environment.

When I discuss Linux in the enterprise I am not speaking to Linux on the end-user desktop. We all know that Microsoft simply beats Linux on the desktop, hands down. Today’s Linux desktop is more cumbersome to use and support, but the primary reason for the lack of desktop adoption is the lack of business and productivity applications supported on Linux. As enterprises have grown and continue to grow, however, they have discovered that there is a need for Linux. They have discovered that Linux excels in the enterprise when it is deployed in the data center.

Linux has become a common enterprise back-office platform for many types of enterprise applications. Database servers, portal applications, web servers, server virtualization and even firewalls are all common enterprise applications that utilize Linux as the network operating system. In these types of roles Linux delivers the performance and reliability that an enterprise needs to meet business goals.

With the major benefits that Linux can bring to the table why have we not seen a more rapid adoption of Linux technologies in the enterprise? There are several reasons, but it most instances the issue revolves around  the lack of experienced support personnel and a lack of understanding in terms of Linux in the data center.

One of the primary reasons for a slower adoption of Linux is support. Microsoft supporters continually point out that Linux is more complex to administer when compared to Microsoft Windows Server, and they are right.  Linux is a very flexible platform, and with this flexibility comes complexity.  Microsoft Windows Server is designed to operate one way reliably and consistently.  While you can configure some parameters on Microsoft Windows Server it is in no way as flexible as Linux.  Linux allows you to customize practically every conceivable parameter to suit your needs.  Again, it is this flexibility that introduces the complexity of managing a Linux platform. 

Given the fact that a Linux server requires a more skilled administrative resource when compared to Microsoft Server it is this requirement that is a primary factor in the slower adoption rate of Linux in the enterprise.  To be clear: I am not saying that Microsoft professionals are less skilled; what I am saying is that the complexity of Linux requires a Linux administrator to possess a more in-depth level of understanding and experience with the Linux OS.  Because these skills are not yet as prevalent in the industry today as Microsoft skills, the adoption rate of Linux is slowed as IT managers and CIOs are reluctant to introduce a system they view as potentially harder to maintain.

Further impacting the adoption of Linux is the lack of understanding in the industry when it comes to Linux.  When IT professionals think of Linux there is a natural tendency to think about Linux on the desktop.  In fact, most Microsoft supporters base their entire anti-Linux argument on the Linux GUI desktop compared to one of the several flavors of Windows still in use today.  More often than not this comparison is carried over to the Linux server platform, where the differences in raw capability between Linux and Microsoft Windows Server are far fewer.  Put bluntly, comparing Linux deployed on the desktop to Linux deployed on the server is like comparing Microsoft Windows 3.1 to Microsoft Windows Server 2003.  The comparison holds no merit in this example, just as it holds no merit when comparing Linux on the desktop to Linux deployed as a server platform.

The only true advantage Microsoft Windows Server has over Linux is in the numbers of supported applications available for each platform.  While Linux is far from being an acceptable option as an enterprise email platform, for example, this is not because Linux is a poorer choice for such an application but rather because of the position Microsoft has in terms of third-party application support.  If tomorrow an email platform equal in functionality to Microsoft Exchange Server were to be released for the Linux OS, Microsoft would be hard-pressed to retain the deployment numbers they enjoy today in enterprise Exchange customers.  As major industry software developers such as Oracle, IBM and SAP continue to expand their software offerings to the Linux platform it will become increasingly more difficult to ignore Linux based simply on its name. 

Understanding the performance and reliability that can be gained from a Linux deployment is key to understanding the benefits of deploying Linux-driven technologies along side Microsoft solutions in the enterprise data center.  As the numbers of IT professionals with Linux skills continues to grow so too will the adoption rate of Linux in the enterprise.

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Mike Dailey is an Information Technology Architect and Senior Network Engineer specializing in the design, integration, and management of complex computer network and data security solutions for medium and large enterprises.

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One Response to “Why Enterprise Adoption of Linux Is Slow”

  1. Paul says:

    Great post, hope you don’t mind if I site some of your comments in my research on the topic. I’ll be sure to give full credit.

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