March 1st, 2006, 01:01 PM
Longhorn vs. Linux: the server battle of 2007
[pong]Longhorn is going to face some very tough competition as Microsoft strives to hold off Linux and Solaris on the server front.
Recently, for the first time ever, Microsoft's server shipment numbers surpassed those of Unix. Soon, however, Microsoft is going to be asking its server customers to switch to Longhorn Server, the next version of its Windows Server, which is due in 2007. Will they switch? Can Unix make a comeback? Can Linux overtake them all?[/pong]
Those are all good questions. Let's try them on one at a time.
Historically, Microsoft's server customers do not move very quickly. Even today, many users are still using the now obsolete Windows 2000, and a decent number are still hanging on to the downright decrepit Windows NT.
Why? Because businesses already own them, businesses know they work, and the server operating systems -- and the hardware they run on -- are already paid for. In other words, never, ever underestimate the power of the installed base. And that's never truer than when upfront costs come to the fore.
Microsoft is trying to make Longhorn Server a compelling upgrade. At TechEd 2005, Bob Muglia, senior vice president for Windows Server, suggested that Longhorn for 64-bit servers in particular would be optimized for high-end business applications that are often found on high-end Unix systems.
That was something no one seemed to bring up. Windows may have outdone Unix in sales, but in actual growth, Microsoft only grew a little over 4 % where Linux grew over 20...
At this point, though, it's really not Unix systems that Longhorn will be competiting with. It will be Linux. Linux, with its year-to-year growth of 20.8 percent, leaves Windows's 4.7 percent year-over-year growth in the dust.
Of course, Microsoft would argue that its product is better, safer, and helps you grow strong bones in twelve different ways. At least one recent study, albeit sponsored by OSDL (Open Source Development Labs) and Linux management company Levanta, shows that Linux is both cheaper upfront and has a lower total cost of ownership.
More to the point, with today's powerful hardware, businesses want to get the best possible performance out of their servers and that means virtualization. Linux, thanks to projects like Xen, has it. Longhorn doesn't.
While Microsoft does have an add-on virtualization program, Virtual Server 2005 R2, for Server 2003, it's not clear when, or if, it will be available for Longhorn. What we do know is that virtualization will not be built into Longhorn. If Microsoft sticks to its plans, we'll see virtualization in Longhorn R2 sometime in 2009.
Red Hat, on the other hand, is pushing to incorporate Xen in its next production Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, which is expected to arrive in the third quarter of 2006.
For enterprises that want to lower their costs while getting more productivity out of existing hardware, Longhorn is going to have to prove itself.
Even current Windows 2003 users may be reluctant to move to Longhorn when it first arrives. After all, many of them can recall that when Server 2003 first hit the streets, very few applications, including Microsoft's own, could run on it.
Let's also not forget that Hewlett-Packard and IBM are both continuing to switch over to Linux on their servers. And, lest we forget, that same study that showed Windows leading in the server operating system space also showed IBM and HP as numbers 1 and 2 in the hardware server races.
Finally, let's not count out the one major company, Sun, that's sticking like glue to Unix. Sun is pushing hard in the server space with its new line of AMD Opteron-powered Sun Fire servers, its continuing embrace of the open-source approach, and its server-oriented acquisitions such as that of Aduva, makers of an important Linux and Solaris data center management program.
Microsoft may be number 1 for now. But Longhorn isn't going to be able to waltz into the lead. It's going to have prove itself against tough competition.