When Linux burst upon the IT scene several years ago, it sparked tremendous optimism that it would loosen Microsoft’s firm grasp on the operating system market. Since then, numerous challenges and obstacles have kept Linux from making significant inroads into Microsoft’s long-established market share dominance in the desktop PC market. However, Linux has made steady progress in the server market and has now become an established player in the data center.

We recently ran a survey for TechRepublic members in which we asked about the place Linux holds in their data centers. The results provide a look at the perceived benefits of deploying Linux, how Linux is being used, and the effect that Linux implementations have had on incumbent UNIX and Windows servers.

Motivations for deploying Linux
Our survey asked about both the financial and the technology motivators for deploying Linux. The two big financial motivators reported were licensing costs and the initial purchase price, as shown in Figure A. As you can see, the cost of labor was low on the list, which is fairly predictable since Linux can be more challenging and complex to deploy and therefore often requires administrators with more expensive skills and experience.

Figure A
Financial motivators for deploying Linux

From the technology standpoint, stability was the top motivator. This seems to show that many of our respondents were probably used to managing Windows and/or NetWare servers, since Linux is usually perceived as being much more stable than these platforms. It seems unlikely that many of these respondents were coming from a UNIX background, since UNIX is generally regarded as being more stable than Linux. Security and performance were also top technology motivators, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B
Technology motivators for deploying Linux

Linux duties
We also wanted to know how companies were using Linux and what services were being run on Linux servers. We asked members to report the primary function(s) that Linux was used for in their server room (Figure C), as well as the secondary functions (Figure D).

Figure C
Primary Linux functions

Figure D
Secondary Linux functions

As you can see, the most popular use of Linux is as a Web server. Not only was that the most prevalent primary service used on Linux, but the respondents who selected other services as the primary function made Web server the most prominent secondary function. That’s not surprising since the Apache Web Server is the most popular Web server on the Internet and Apache on Linux is an established and well-respected Web platform. Other prominent roles include file and print server, mail server, firewall, and DNS server.

The effect on UNIX and Windows
When bringing Linux into the data center, respondents said they’ve used it to replace UNIX or Windows systems in nearly 55 percent of deployments, as shown in Figure E. As you can see, Linux has replaced many more Windows systems than UNIX systems, but that’s probably because there were a lot more Windows systems in the data center. Also, keep in mind that Linux is simply coexisting with these other operating systems in many cases, as these results show.

Figure E
Effect of Linux deployments on UNIX and Windows

Linux has yet to make Microsoft sweat in the desktop market, but these survey results show that the penguin operating system is making a solid infusion into the server room. In many cases, Linux is being used as a Web platform, which could prove advantageous for the OS in the future, since more and more applications, services, and IT functions are being moved to Web-based platforms.