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Gartner: Linux Process, Not Tech, Biggest Hurdle

Neither SCO Group's copyright claims on select Linux code nor Microsoft will be able to slow the spread of Linux in the enterprise over the next two years, an analyst for Gartner Research said.

The biggest hurdles to greater Linux enterprise penetration are process-based, according to George Weiss.

In a conference call sponsored by Unisys, Gartner's Weiss said five "process" issues could potentially inhibit Linux's continued movement up the enterprise pyramid.

They include: the potential for multiple source code distribution to cause fragmentation; higher support costs that increase total cost of ownership (TCO) with demanding workloads; OSS licenses that could proliferate beyond users' abilities to manage them; frequent open source software releases that create potential compatibility dependency issues, and potential patent and copyright issue exposure that could raise risk management concerns.

However, despite these issues, Gartner Research data also shows that more enterprises expect to make Linux their next strategic focus.

Linux is moving up the enterprise pyramid from non-mission critical network edge functions, to mission critical deployment, he noted in a presentation titled, "Enterprise Linux: Will Adolescence Yield to Maturity?"

In terms of focus, Network edge came in first at 31 percent in the survey's results about Linux usage, followed by Web Servers and Data center/mission critical at 18 percent. Application servers were a focus for 13 percent of respondents and computing clusters were cited by 12 percent of the survey's respondents.

"It's probably more than likely that UNIX will decline and will be pushed up into a mission-critical or mainframe focus in the enterprise, for databases and for large and very demanding workloads" over the next five years, Weiss said.

"For the part of the market where we're talking about mid-range applications, where you've got 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 and possibly 32-way, there will be a major tug of war between Linux on one hand and Windows on the other."

Linux will also likely erode software margins and continue to drive subscription pricing. Gartner also said he expects Linux to become a significant presence in more than 60 percent of data centers. Just don't expect all that Linux activity to lead to large migrations from either Windows servers or Windows desktop, he added.

He shrugged off any potential impact of the copyright-themed SCO lawsuits regarding Linux. "Our sense is there won't be any outstanding or major repercussions to the Linux market per se, and if there are certain repercussions, we believe that some of those could be addressed by the kernel community so that upgrades could be made accordingly," Weiss said.

Though not willing to negate the effect of Sun Microsystems open Solaris initiative on the Linux server market, Weiss however noted his firm's hesitant and cautious outlook about them.

"We're not willing to say that they're (SUN) gone, they still have very much of an approach to the market that could take hold," Weiss said. "But I think it's going to take them awhile and it could be 12 to 24 months before we see anything of the momentum of the nature they had exercised at the early part of the decade."

Despite the strength of the two principal Linux enterprise vendors, Red Hat and Novell , Weiss said both companies must wrestle with pricing issues, especially Red Hat.

"We've seen that some users feel that Red Hat has been, at times, arrogant about their subscription-based pricing. In fact, the pricing may be a little inflexible for some users," Weiss said.

Novell's entry into the market with its acquisition of SUSE is a will help prevent an Linux OS monopoly and vendor lock-in. "We would have expected that Novell would be able to take a chunk out of the large market share that Red Hat has in the U.S. and North America of about 80 percent, with maybe a 20 percent share for Novell," Weiss said. "We would expect that proportion to recalibrate to 65/35 in favor of Red Hat over the next 12 months if Novell executes well."

Overall, he said he sees strong growth opportunities for the open source operating system.

"I would make the blunt statement that as far as Linux's penetration into the enterprise, there is no technological hurdle, no show stoppers in the technical sense. If there are show stoppers or hurdles it would be more in the process of what's going in the community."