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Linux Gaining Strength In Downturn

Reducing costs and stronger interoperability with Windows were listed as the two top issues in a new survey of IT managers.

A February survey of IT managers by IDC indicated that hard times are accelerating the adoption of Linux. The open source operating system will emerge from the recession in a stronger data center position than before, concluded an IDC white paper.

Sixty-five percent of the 330 respondents said they plan to increase Linux server workloads by 10% or more this year. Sixty-three percent said they will increase their use of Linux on the desktop by more than 10% this year, although such an increase would still probably represent a miniscule share of all desktops. Forty-nine percent said they expect Linux will be their primary server platform within five years.

The first two numbers happen to closely track the 62% of respondents who said they are facing IT budget cuts or "are moving more cautiously and investing only where needed," noted authors Al Gillen and Brett Waldman.

Of the CIOs, VPs of IT, and IT managers and professional staffers surveyed, 97% had Windows Server in use; 57% had Linux in use as a server system, and 39% also used Unix. The paper seemed to show that those already using Linux tend to use more of it during a recession, and in some cases, decrease their reliance on commercial Unix. Given a chance to migrate away from Unix, the respondents often said they would choose Linux as the replacement based on its low support costs.

Linux server use has surpassed that of Unix for several years. Another source of growth for Linux is either on the IBM mainframe, where it runs natively, or in those shops migrating away from the mainframe to lower cost x86 servers.

Virtualization of the data center also aids Linux use in that Linux runs as a guest under a hypervisor on a Windows Server host. Instead of buying additional Windows licenses, Windows administrators can often create virtual machines running Linux to handle specific applications. Servers pre-loaded with virtualization software had reached 14.8% of all x86 servers by the third quarter of 2008, Gillen and Waldman wrote.

Asked what factors would accelerate Linux deployments, respondents said "reducing costs and stronger interoperability with Windows" as the two top issues. Although Linux is distributed for free, technical support for Linux from Red Hat, Novell, and other vendors is charged for via annual subscriptions, and IT staffers knowledgeable in Linux frequently command good salaries.

The white paper said Linux "has failed to successfully capture a substantial share of traditional client deployments," but new form factors, such as netbooks running Linux, and the growing number of Web-based Linux applications may result in more use of Linux on the client, Gillen and Waldman wrote. In addition, growth markets tend to be found in emerging economies where Microsoft Windows doesn't already dominate end user computing. The increasing use of Linux as a pre-loaded system on mobile devices is another area where Linux use is likely to grow on clients, they said.

Linux is likely to find its greatest growth in the retail sector, already a big user of the operating system, with financial services and manufacturing not far behind, they said.

Novell, the distributor of SUSE Linux Enterprise System, was the sponsor of the survey and made a draft of the IDC white paper available to InformationWeek today. But it had no role in selecting survey respondents, said Markus Rex, senior VP of Novell's Open Platforms Solutions.

Linux on half of all new servers? Red Hat's got plans. InformationWeek has published an independent analysis of this topic. Download the report here (registration required).

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