Enterprise: Hang On To What We Got

When it comes to enterprise hardware, the theme song is “Let’s Hang Onto What We Got,” said Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio.

In the course of completing a global server survey, to be released next week, DiDio found that three out of five businesses keep their server hardware anywhere from four to six years. The grip was especially strong when it came to file servers, but held true for application servers, as well.

“This is bad news if you’re a vendor,” she said. “There’s no huge, pent-up demand for servers on the part of customers, unless the server could do everything.”

Cash constraints still contribute to the reluctance to upgrade, she said, but another factor is the longer lives made possible by advances in server software. Only 15 percent of server migrations were fueled by the need to upgrade the operating system or application software, she said, while 85 percent of businesses upgrade only when the hardware runs out of steam.

The pain of upgrades was another barrier among the 18,000 companies that responded. “Networks have grown in size, scope and complexity. The overwhelming majority of enterprises have heterogeneous networks, so management will take front and center,” she said. “They’ll go to great lengths to avoid an upgrade for as long as they can.”

DiDio said this foot-dragging could work to Microsoft’s benefit; the company plans to release the still-code-named Longhorn Server in 2007. A lot of companies skipped Windows Server 2000, she said, going from Windows NT to Windows Server 2003.

Although Microsoft is touting improved management and easier administration in Windows Vista, the new client operating system to be delivered by the end of 2006, she didn’t think that would be a strong selling point.

“I don’t want to diminish the importance of network management. But … it’s a nebulous, ill-defined term . . . There are good things in there will make life easier, but with the mentality of customers today — from the CEO and CIO to administrators — it has to be earth-shattering. Most of them have found out we can make do with what we have”

“If they were releasing Longhorn tomorrow, you wouldn’t see a stampede to buy it,” DiDio said. But the prospective release date could be right on target for enterprise upgrades, wit a cycle that often drags out to four years. “I think at that point, customers will be ready to make the move,” she said.

If Microsoft can improve the security of its software, it would be an incentive, DiDio added. And, in a recent survey on total cost of ownership, Yankee Group found that the perception of Microsoft server security had improved, while that of Linux server software had slipped.

Microsoft has been pushing such comparisons in its Get the Facts About Microsoft and Linux campaign, which includes a special Web site where it posts studies; some are independent and some are paid for by Microsoft.

The campaign has been criticized because Redmond had not always disclosed which research it had paid for; it also came under fire for misleading ads and inaccurate comparisons.

In her latest research comparing the total cost of ownership of Linux and Windows servers and desktops, she compared the security of Windows and Linux on five different server types and desktops. Scoring security from one to 10, with 10 being the highest, Windows was rated 7.6, up from 3.5 last year. Linux security, which scored 9.2 last year, dipped to 8.3 in the latest survey.

While Microsoft has worked to patch security holes, DiDio said, the popularity of Linux has made it more of a target for crackers.

“Linux was like a beach no one went to,” she said. “Then, you tell your friends, and they tell 10 people. And the beach gets crowded and full of litter. That’s what happened to Linux.”

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