Moving to Linux used to be a big deal. Sure, it was cheaper, more reliable and more flexible — but who did you turn to when things went wrong? In an enterprise world that had grown up with the idea that Unix needed to be complex and expensive — and that Windows was a quick-and-dirty plan B — the idea of getting a robust, scalable operating system for free just didn't click for many years.
Fortunately for Linux, the support structure that gradually built up around this rogue operating system — which is now the favourite son of one-time Unix diehards HP, IBM, Novell and Sun — has dispensed with that fear. Supported by integrators and buoyed by ever-improving technology, all kinds of organisations are happily using Linux for a range of mission-critical services.
The enduring popularity of Linux is reflected in its market-share statistics: IDC's latest Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker figures showed Linux servers accounting for 13.6 percent of all server revenue, for a total of $1.8bn (£890m) during the second quarter alone. That's a 19 percent increase in revenues over last year, and solid confirmation that the platform just continues to go from strength to strength.
Equally important, however, is the changing role of Linux. Well advanced from its origins as a file-and-print server, Linux now manages services including mission-critical databases, enterprise applications, virtualisation of other operating system images, and massive compute clusters built out of large numbers of commodity servers. With its accessible code base and stronger independent software vendor support, Linux has truly become an everyman operating system.
Or has it? Despite years of enthusiastic predictions, Linux still has yet to make a dent in the desktop market — even though the meteoric success of Ubuntu has made it a household name (in some households, at least).
That doesn't take away from the importance of Linux as a server platform, however, and, since web-based applications have become so important in today's operating environment, the odds are that you could do with a bit of server rationalisation. After all, why pay exorbitant licence fees just to keep up with peaks in demand for your website?
Of course, there will always be certain applications that just aren't available on Linux: anything based on .NET, for example, or graphics-intensive tools are likely to prefer Windows. So, while there is a compelling case to move many of your back-end services to Linux, it's also important to work out a strategy for keeping the two environments working in sync — for example, keeping your data in a separate environment, such as a storage area network, neutral file server or platform-agnostic database, which is equally accessible from all platforms.
It still requires planning and careful execution, but the wealth of experience around Linux means it's no longer an unsupportable, risky proposition for most companies. It's probably premature for most companies to simply cut their ties with Windows altogether, since ultimately platform decisions are made on what's best for the business rather than some sort of religious determination. But, by embracing Linux in the right places — and even the desktop can be a "right place" for many companies — you can take out some of the chaff in your IT environment and see benefits you never would have imagined just a few years ago.