Whatever the reasons behind the formation of the Microsoft-Novell technology partnership announced last year, it's helping Novell SuSE Linux gain at Red Hat's expense, according to a research study due out next month.
The Yankee Group "2007 Global Server Hardware and Server OS Survey" -- a survey of nearly 1,000 IT managers and C-level executives -- says that Novell's SuSE Linux is "mounting a serious threat to Red Hat's heretofore unassailable dominance in the Linux market."
(This is the same Yankee study that also found that Linux- and open-source-based e-mail systems are starting to pose a serious threat to Microsoft Exchange.)
SuSE's gain seemingly isn't impacting Windows Server marketshare among the IT professionals that Yankee surveyed. About 12 percent of Windows users surveyed by Yankee who had "defected" to Linux are now reversing their decisions and coming back to the Microsoft fold," according to an executive summary of the report that I had a chance to see last week.
Yankee's study finds Windows usage remaining high among the surveyed base: 55 percent of the respondents noted that 80 percent to 100 percent of their servers are running Windows, says study author, Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio. However, Linux deployments also remain healthy, Yankee finds, with 38 percent of the respondents reporting that "up to 20 percent of their servers were running Linux, while only 28 percent said they did not have any Linux installed."
I asked DiDio to what extent the Microsoft deal is behind SuSE's rise in popularity. She responded:
"The rise in SuSE's popularity is attributable to a number of factors and yes, the Microsoft-Novell deal is one of them. Novell's decision (in 2006) to force (former CEO Jack) Messman out had a positive effect. It rejuvenated the company and enabled it to go forward under Hovsepian's more expert guidance.
"You can't underestimate the impact that Messman's exit had to boost morale and provide a big ray of hope to the much maligned though still loyal, Novell legacy NetWare user base.Having new management and delivering on new products like the identity management and security products also helped restore confidence.
"As for the Microsoft/Novell deal, that was the icing on the cake. Again, another BIG confidence booster -- working together to ensure integration and interoperability between these two long time rival platforms is a balm to the spirit of beleaguered IT managers everywhere. Plus, the fact that Microsoft will provide technical service and support to the Novell SuSE networks is HUGE... In recent years, many businesses reluctantly abandoned Novell products because service and support were inadequate and very expensive (particularly for legacy products). But again, businesses reluctantly abandoned Novell even as they had high praise for the functionality of the products.
"At the same, time some businesses were becoming concerned that Red Hat's runaway success could create a dominant position for RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) that would be problematic in the Linux/open source community as Microsoft's Windows has been."
While Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has said repeatedly that IP protection was a (if not the) key driving force behind the Microsoft-Novell deal, DiDio said she believes there were other factors behind Microsoft's interest in forging the tech partnership:
"I really think the main impetus for the MS/Novell deal was to 1) undercut Red Hat; 2) by embracing Novell, Microsoft gets to "hold its' friends close and its' enemies closer" BUT most importantly by embracing and supporting Linux in this matter, Microsoft gains an important ally in the ongoing EC antitrust actions -- the Microsoft/Novell alliance severely diminishes many of the anti-competitive allegations the EC is lobbing against Microsoft. And at the time they inked the deal, that was very much (and still is,) on Microsoft's mind..."
It's interesting to me that DiDio never mentioned customers when I asked her about Microsoft's motivation for inking the Novell partnership. Nonetheless, based on Yankee's upcoming findings, it sounds like some business customers are finding the Microsoft-Novell deal reassuring and compelling, as Microsoft and Novell continue to claim.
What do you make of Yankee's latest OS findings?