Monday, February 05, 2007

Is Windows losing out & Linux gaining?



The penguin’s come of age. What began as a battle between proprietary and open source Linux software, started by geeks around the world, isn’t plain tech rhetoric anymore. It’s now a mainstream commercial platform — a technology that enterprises are taking very seriously and looking at as a major cost-effective solution that has scalability and a great future roadmap.

A free software that can be downloaded from the Web, Linux has a source code that’s open and therefore available for anyone to use, modify, and redistribute freely. Proprietary Unix and Windows operating systems aren’t available for such tweaking.

With the movement getting the support of IT biggies such as IBM, Oracle and Hewlett-Packard, which have devoted many of their engineers to work with the open source movement, enterprises are now showing confidence in adopting Linux. It’s no more now about getting your software free — in India the dominating Linux brands are Red Hat and Suse from Novell.

But companies are ready to pay. “You know, it’s not really about getting you software free — it’s about getting software that’s secure and robust... it’s about a system on which their applications will run well,” says Manojit Majumdar, country leader, academic initiatives and Linux, IBM. That’s the line Linux vendors are selling taking — making the most of the fact that Windows systems have the attention of hackers across the world and are often prone to virus attacks.

Spreading its wings

It’s now, however, not just about tweaking software solutions for Linux systems — there are, in fact, a host of peripherals from top brands such as Canon and HP that are compatible with Linux.

Meanwhile, enrolment for Linux-based courses are increasing, governments around the world are pushing for Linux, and more and more tech companies are modifying their solutions to run on Linux. It’s a movement that’s sweeping the backend operations, but you’re unlikely to notice it since the desktop is still dominated by Microsoft Windows. But chances are the many of the servers right in your own office are running on Linux but you’ve never known.

“We now see Linux moving to mission-critical applications — we see a lot of adoption in sectors such as banking, financial services, government and large corporations,” says a senior official of Red Hat, the leading Linux distributor in India. Some of the major Linux implementations in recent times took place at LIC, UTI, Central bank of India, Canara Bank, KBC’s SMS systems, various Airtel applications. What’s more state governments in Kerala, Chhatisgarh and West Bengal are looking at large scale adoptions of Linux to bring down technology costs.

The Kerala government has, in fact, announced that the state will be a FOSS (Free and open source software) destination and had introduced Linux in 12,500 schools in the state.

Meanwhile in West Bengal too, Linux is seen as a cost-saving solution in many e-governance projects. Other governments, such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka too have various projects running on Linux.

David-Golliath Alliance

What’s more — what looked like a David-Goliath battle between Microsoft and Linux now has Goliath crossing over to David’s side. It started with the Microsoft’s alliance with Novell, and its attention-grabbing presence at the recently-held Linux Asia in New Delhi. While Linux distributors such as Red Hat and Novell see it as a sign of acknowledgement that “Linux is now a mature technology”, Microsoft contends that it has customers that have servers running on different operating systems and with inter-operability becoming an issue, it had to step in to solve the problem for them.

For anyone who had doubts that Linux might work in India, considering the tardy nature of tech adoption here, there are IDC figures that show that in terms of server shipments, Linux had a market share of 19.3% in 2005, 21.1% in 2006, and expected to increase to 25.7% in 2010. The market share for Windows too will grew from 63.1%, to 64% in 2006, and is expected to grow to 65% in 2010. That’s impressive, but even more so when you realise that all estimates of Linux are actually conservative because many organisations use free downloads that can’t even be downtracked. This can be quite a challenge for analysts tracking Linux growth because it’s common for them to find organisations where Linux is being used and they’ve never known about it before.

That doesn’t mean Microsoft’s Windows operating system is losing out. “The pie is getting bigger and the reason we’re collaborating with Novell is because many of our clients have servers running on different operating systems. With virtualisation becoming a big trend in tech adoption, we’ll see more of that. And we’re there to solve such issues for our customers,” says Radhesh Balakrishnan, director - competitive strategy, Microsoft. The fact, is that a large enterprise will have multiple operating systems and different applications that run on it.

In fact, if you look at the spending figures, Linux shows a decline from 15.4% in 2005 to 14% in 2006. “This does not amount to decline in absolute value of Linux server spending,” explains Rajnish Arora, director, enterprise servers and workstations, IDC Asia/ Pacific. “The decline in value share is stemming from the fact that other operating systems such as Windows are growing much faster than Linux in the high-end of the market.” And that’s where the big revenues are.

In India, Unix share actually increased almost 1 percentage point from 2005 to 2006, resulting in decline in Linux share. “That was due to strong growth in spending across the telecom and financial services space for core-processing workloads,” Mr Arora said.

The trend may not continue till 2010 (see chart) as confidence in Linux gains ground.

Meanwhile, Apac figures (excluding Japan) show Windows market share declining from 69.3% in 2005 to 65.1% in terms of unit shipments, but revenue spending nevertheless increasing from 36.9% in 2005 to 40.5% in 2010. In the case of Linux unit shipments increase from 16.0% in 2005 to 26.4% in 2010 with revenues to spending also increasing from 9.4% in 2005 to 14.7% in 15.5%.

The figures (look at chart) show that both Linux and Microsoft are in fact benefiting from migration that’s happening from from other servers such as Netware and Unix. Globally, Microsoft Windows server revenues too grew 4.6% year on year with a revenue of $4.8 bn in the quarter ending November. The Linux server growth was 5.4% YOY, with the revenue being $1.5 bn for the quarter. Unix servers experience a 1.7% decline year on year.

A learning experience

All the action in the enterprise segment is spinning off some new trends in the education space too. IT training institutions such as Aptech and New Horizons too report increased number of students for its Linux courses. At New Horizons, the number of students for Linux course has been growing 100% year on year. “The reason is that companies like Oracle and IBM are putting more and more applications on Linux,” says Mr Ajay Sharma, president, New Horizons India.

At Aptech too students there are indicators that the industry is looking for more Linux experts. “Since a large number of organizations are adopting Linux, the requirement for professionals is increasing accordingly,” D. Venkat, national academic head, Aptech & SSi Education. Manish Bahl, senior analyst, Springboard Research, corroborates that, explaining that it’s India’s major IT companies such as Infosys and TCS that are recruiting Linux professionals in a big way. “Overall, I expect to see a Linux professionals demand of around 18% in 2007 and beyond,” says Mr Bahl.

Says SPS Grover, VP -Tech Sales, Oracle India: “We find that Linux is finding increasing acceptance among enterprises across the country. And with that happening we’ve extended our support from the six metros to 17 other cities.” He added: “We offer customers all our solutions — data base, development tools, key packages — on Linux because we feel it’s a system that’s robust and secure. And we’re running these for large enterprises in the telecom sector, financial services and government.” With the base for Linux still small, it’s the fastest growing business for Oracle, but the company wouldn’t divulge actual figures for its Linux business.

But clearly there’s room for coexistence of both proprietary and open source. Says Mr Arora of IDC: “There are some areas such as web workload, firewalls and high performance computing, where Linux has a strong presence. Windows, on the other hand has a sound position in business processing, CRM (customer relations management), messaging, collaborating, etc.” But don’t be surprised if Microsoft has been racking it’s collective brainpower to get into these areas too. “We are working with SGI to get into the high performance computing space too,” says Balakrishnan.

Experts pooh-pooh that. In the case of high performance computing or HPC, the world’s top 500 computers run on Linux. “High performance computing is done by extremely technologically-savvy people, who aren’t going to work on proprietary operating systems, and I’m not sure how Microsoft is going to address that. In fact, they’re are the kind who will fine-tune the operating system to suit their needs, strip off parts of the source code that aren’t necessary so that they don’t overload it with functions and features that they don’t need,” says Mr Arora.

More migration

Linux is benefiting from migration that’s happening from other servers such as Unix and Netware. But then, so is Windows. Security and robustness are other factors that Linux vendors are selling. Reacting to Microsoft’s claims that it’s more secure than Linux, Mr Arora says: “In the case of Linux, the source code is open and there are thousands of developers around the world working on it. Any vulnerability is resolved immediately — that’s not the case with Windows. Which is why Microsoft is frequently putting out security updates, while in the case of Linux, updates are not quite as frequent.”

But it’s not as though Linux doesn’t have it’s challenges. For instance, though a company like IBM has 1,000 of its workforce devoted to Linux, all its software doesn’t run on Linux yet — it’s high-end enterprise version database solution called DB2, for instance, as well as its WebSphere Application Server. “We have over 400 software products available on Linux, including Eclipse to write code in Java,” says Manojit Majumdar, who heads the Linux business of IBM, adding that customers could always check the company website to see if the application they planned to run would be compatible with Red Hat’s version of Linux or Novel’s Suse version.

Microsoft is at an advantage here — it can boast of an ecosystem (comprising applications, software developers trained on its software, training programmes) that the Linux vendors cannot hope to match yet. “But what we tell our customers is that if you want to scale up, Linux would be a more cost-effective proposition. Besides, the fact that it’s more secure,” says Mr Majumdar.

Meanwhile Microsoft commissioned Frost & Sullivan to do a study on the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) comparison of Windows 2003 and Linux. “The Windows environment across enterprises has close to 15.9% advantage over Linux and constitutes lower TCO in 80% of the instances encompassing application servers, network servers, and mail servers,” according to the study. And the fact is that Microsoft still does have the major market share and the confidence of enterprises.

However, Linux vendors don’t see that as a huge challenge. “More than challenges, there are opportunities for open source that have to be truly projected and we’re working with governments to achieve that,” says Red Hat officials.

Says Sandeep Menon, director, Linux business, Novell, “We now no longer need to substantiate that Linux is a mature system — what we’re now looking at are new work loads, such as data centres, etc.” Mr Menon adds that his company’s alliance with Microsoft will help address Novell’s customers’ problems with inter-operability and will also bring them under a customer protection clause.

The deal will also see the two companies getting into some joint marketing. There has been
some foreboding about the collaboration, but experts say that this just may be the beginning of a new scenario — one in which each Linux vendor can say: “My Linux is better than yours.”

website page counter