Development environments: Microsoft vs. Open Source

Development environments: Microsoft vs. Open Source

Summary: Risks, real and perceived, are key drivers in the open source versus proprietary decision - and boil down to this: making an open source decision for mission critical software is also a decision to develop at least some in-house expertise with respect to the application's internals.


As we saw yesterday the much vaunted Unix skills premium over Windows is pretty small - 15% or so in an overheated market and less than that elsewhere.

Notice, however, that this information pertains only to larger organizations: people who can pay their neighborhood pretend-a-geek $25 per hour to futz with their Windows machines are generally convinced that's a lot cheaper than paying a formal IT labor retailer $180 and up for insurable skills.

Underlying that belief is an assumption: that the services have comparable value, and while I doubt that, this is another area where the data needed to know for sure simply doesn't exist. For larger businesses, however, we have lots of numbers - and their consequences are mind boggling.

These come in two parts: an easy part, and a hard part - and bear in mind that that I'm looking at this from the perspective of a niche issue: the risks associated with choosing closed versus open source software. There are, in other words, lots of other issues here - but they're not part of my agenda with this particular Thursday series.

The easy part is, well easy - it's about the minimums needed to operate the IT architecture at all.

To support the typical 1,000 user enterprise on an all Wintel architecture you'll need an IT director, two junior managers, about a dozen user interface staff (aka help desk people), five people in data center operations, all plus a couple of juniors to manage licensing, compliance and ever-greening - and, bottom line, you'll find 2o FTEs an extremely conservative minimum just to keep the lights on.

Replace that architecture with a couple of Solaris machines, 920 or so Sun Rays, 60 Macs, and perhaps 20 PCs and you're going to be paying about ten people, four of whom you don't actually need every day but have to have to provide off-hour coverage and a backup ready to step in when other team members go on vacation - or get hit by a bus.

Double the size of that Windows infrastructure and your non management FTEs go up nearly linearly - double the number of Sun Rays on the Unix side and you won't be hiring anyone new - Sun runs 33,000 Sun Rays with fewer than 30 full time staff.

Notice that most of the Wintel architecture money goes into desktop support, not data center services - but switching those desktops to Terminal Server/Citrix clients doesn't let you significantly reduce your FTEs because that support requirement comes from the Windows-Client server architecture, not the physical location of the device. Thus Windows thin clients save you some money on support, lots of money on ever-greening, and let the company save some more money on power and air conditioning, but on net you're probably looking at no more than 20% -certainly not order of magnitude change.

The hard part is, well, much harder even if you want, as I do here, to only look at one consequence of it.

The basic staff configurations in the two scenarios above are fundamentally different. On the Windows side I've suggested just enough people to run the typical set-up with the typical "base-load" applications: communications services, office services, some financial package integrated with whatever the major business application is, and perhaps some web services.

On the Unix side, in contrast, I've suggested that you'll be hiring people who won't have much to do just to spread the burden on off-hour operations while protecting the business against key man syndrome, vacation effects, and the occasional hostile bus.

Now consider a new application decision in both contexts.

Go to unsupported open source on something that's likely to become mission critical and you pretty much commit to having your people develop some in-depth expertise with it - but go proprietary and you know that almost any one of your people can play the trained monkey on your end of a support call to deal with emergencies as they come up.

In other words, the less flex time you have in your IT staffing regime, the better contractually supported proprietary software starts to look - and, conversely, the more unallocated time and expertise your staff has, the better both supported and unsupported open source starts to look.

In the end this is, of course, all about 3AM risk - the more you empower your IT staff and thus the less you pre-commit their time to busy work, the more software risk you can take and thus the better open source looks.

Notice that this result is nominally OS independent: it's as true for Wintel users as Unix users - but the real bottom line is that with Unix you've got skilled people with the time available to do this and with Windows you don't - because with Windows base costs are high; the workload's heavy; skill ranges are narrow; and your use of the same software, on the same hardware, run by the same interchangeable people as the other guy, condemns you to compete on nickels and dimes.

Topics: CXO, Storage, Software, Oracle, Operating Systems, Open Source, Microsoft, Hardware, Emerging Tech, Data Centers, Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • This weeks diatribe

    Tune in for this week's Paul Murphy diatribe against evil MS. In this week's episode, we see the ever crafty Paul (pseudonym), who seems to have little real world experience, yank some numbers out of his (where the sun doesn't shine).

    Seriously Paul? Where do you come up with this stuff? Please cite your sources for those figures. Oh wait, you can't because you made them up.

    In all of the places that I've worked (from mid/small size to fortune 500 companies) the Solaris folks always have a much lower FTE to server ratio than the Windows team. The difference in staffing ratios isn't small either. At my previous employer, we had the same number of Solaris engineers as Windows engineers. We had 200 Solaris servers and 3000 Windows servers. And just to make sure that you don't get all excited to jump on the server number disparity, the Solaris servers were running a specific application whereas the Windows servers were running everything else.
    • Perhaps if you read what I wrote...

      Check the body counts in the two data centers and the comment about where the wintel costs come from.

      A typical 1000 user wintel business has about 90 production Windows servers - versus perhaps four production Solaris machines, but both groups need around five people to run them.
      • Perhaps if you read what you wrote

        You say regarding Wintel:
        "you?ll find 2o FTEs an extremely conservative minimum just to keep the lights on."

        and then regarding Solaris:
        "you?re going to be paying about ten people, four of whom you don?t actually need every day"

        Your statement about doubling the Wintel infrastructure will require a doubling in non management staff shows your ignorance and your propensity to, in laymans terms, make things up. In my current company the Windows server staff has remained static for the last 8 years. In that time, the company has grown exponentially with the Wintel server count increasing tenfold. On the Solaris side, each server is its own fiefdom with its own admin. Each server is unique depending on the intricacies of the admin that built it. We have had to bring in a 3rd party product to get the Solaris servers added to AD.

        Your analogy that you can replace 90 Wintel servers with 4 Solaris servers is highly suspect since you don't follow it up. What type of hardware are the Solaris servers running? Is it like hardware to the commodity 2-way Wintel servers you are referring to (I've had to make this assumption since once again you offer no data) or are we talking about large servers such as a Fujitsu 1500 or 2500? I know the answer, since we've done it, I am curious to see your response.
        • Excellent, keep pressing him for facts to back up his Assertions

          • Never satisfied

            Obviously the one counterexample DISPROVING the assertion is alive and well here at ZDnet. I doubt Murph could give enough information and facts to satisfy everyone (and keep it under 1000 words or whatever his blog limit is). Instead of demanding where his "facts" come from, why not accept his assertion on the face - and ask intelligent questions about why he says what he does?
            Roger Ramjet
          • Because

            On other issues that he speaks as confidently on he has been categorically wrong and clearly has been operating on hearsay.

            I don't know how, but sometimes you can tell when someone really knows their stuff and has been around multiple platforms, and while perhaps having a preference is comfortable in a wide variety of situations. It is subjective, I know, but Paul's assertions just smell like mere opinion. And unfounded opinion at that. I believe he does know what he knows but he speaks on more than he knows and says clearly inaccurate things. I like guys who've done it all. An almost invariably they don't show the same biases. They tend to focus on general problems that affect everybody and stay away from zealotry.

            I really respect Linus Torvalds for that reason. Or Bjarne Stroustrup or Herb Sutter.

            I'm not against Unix or Sun, or Risc. I have my biases too.

            Paul does say some good things, but when he rants about Windows or hardware I just don't believe him.
          • Actually, questioning his assertion is asking why.

            Anyone can makeup stats and throw them out there. If his assertion is correct then he should be able to at least provide a link to the data behind his conclusions. Basically, he's presented his opinion as solid fact which is convenient since he doesn't have to be burdened down with presenting data to backup his facts.<br><br>
            For example: I could make the assertion that a Unix admin is more qualified than a Windows admin. Unix is harder to learn and therefore the Unix admin must be more qualified than the Windows admin.<br>
            My assertion is erroneous because it's only opinion with no facts. First off, qualification has little to do with the technology and more to do with the individual. Ability, experience, work ethic, and knowledge of a technology all play a part in how qualified someone is. You can expect that Unix admin with experience should be more qualified than Windows admin with no Unix experience at maintaining a Unix system; however, that doesn't mean that he is more qualified than the Windows admin at administering a Windows system. One just doesn't equate to the other. I'm experienced at developing database apps (especially on the backend) and even have experience programming in assembly, but that doesn't make me more qualified at designing websites or doing web-development than your average web-developer. Knowing ax is the accumulator bp is the base pointer and ip is the instruction pointer doesn't mean I know how write a webpage.
          • I try

            I try to call Paul out whenever time permits. He is the prime of example of why ZDNet is nowhere near as good as they used to be. ZDNet no longer sees it fit to have journalists on staff. They rely on these "bloggers". These so called bloggers are independent, so whatever trash they put up, ZDNet can claim they are not ZDNet staff but rather bloggers.
            For the most part the "bloggers" tend to know a little about what they are talking about. Paul, though, is out in la-la land. He really has no real world enterprise experience. What bothers me is that someone who doesn't know Paul and his Don Quixote like quest of destroying MS (MS being his windmill) might actually believe what he says. After you read a few of his blogs, it becomes painfully clear that he has no clue. All he knows is Sun. That's it. And if he has to make things up to destroy a windmill, er, I mean MS, then so be it.
            I can't imagine that Paul would get much chance at gaining any experience with other products. I can see Paul lasting all of 1 month in a diverse enterprise environment. His attitude (Solaris, holier than thou) would assure that he'd be let go quickly.
          • Who's the bigger ranter?

            Murph gives his reasoning for his assertions. For PC costing more, he cites MS client/server architecture, data processing mentality, and other points.

            All I hear from you (and others here) is demonizing dialog - and not any effort whatsoever to address his points. But of course, Anton hasn't weighed in yet . . .
            Roger Ramjet
          • Just the facts maam

            Murphy doesn't provide any data to backup any of his assertions. He just makes them up. I call it like it is. I don't question his knowledge of all things Sun. But his knowledge of current enterprise environments and Windows is woeful. Give me facts!
            I work in a company where an outage of 1 minute would cost us millions (not an exaggeration). It is a high paced/high stress environment. We used to be mostly a Solaris shop. We have since migrated most of our apps to Windows and Linux. The reliability is comparable. You can make up all of the stats that you want. I see it in the real world. If Windows were as unreliable as many of these know-it-alls claim, business would jump down our throats and we'd be unemployed.
    • This weeks diatribe comes from Salonikios

      It's quite simple :
      Unix people ALSO know Windows.
      Windows ONLY people are scared of learning, lazy or just ignorant.

      Windows people often barely know what goes on behind the scenes, because their whole learning process is based on MS press releases and clicking dialogue boxes. They're ALWAYS less able to cope when something odd happens to the network. Ask a Unix guy and, on average, he will have very good networking knowledge too.

      You Windows only kids, go ahead, make as much noise as you want. Scream as your noddy jobs go disappearing. Do your best to justify yourselves.

      The rest of the world is moving on. MS couldn't keep clever people down forever ....
      • Fr0thy at the mouth

        ...would be a better description of you. Guys like you would never make it in the real world. You don't work well with others (sound familiar). The Solaris people we have here, work well with the Windows folks, who work well with the Linux folks. I'd also put the knowledge of anyone on the Windows team against anyone on the Solaris team at my employer but that is a moot point since we all get along just fine. Just because you've heard about paper MCSE's doesn't make Windows people less knowledgeable. And actually I don't believe that anyone currently on our Windows team has an up to date MCSE certification. Who has time for that?

        We have weeded out the know it all old school Solaris people (like you and Murphy). They have no business in current multi platform enterprise environments. When I started at my current employer, most of the systems were running Sun Solaris. We came in and brought them up to the 20th and later 21st century. Here is an example...Some of the Solaris admins refused to use DHCP because it was a MS product. They statically addressed all of their servers. Their argument? "We don't want our servers changing ip addresses everytime they boot" Pretty ignorant statement even after we explained leases and reservations. Each Solaris server was also managed by hand. We saved hundreds of thousands of dollars migrating what we could over to Windows and Linux and away from Sun's oppressive costs. (including support contracts)
        The Solaris admins that were able to conform stuck around and/or became Linux admins. The ones that didn't.....out the door they went and what a better work environment it is. Rather than have to deal with guys that have a superiority complex, we can have honest open technical discussions. The Solaris guys that did stay have had their eyes opened. Like I said, we are deploying 3rd party software to get Solaris servers added to AD. This would have been unthinkable with curmudgeons like you and Murphy.

        So, you can continue your ignorance and talk up your self importance all you want. You and Murphy can get together monthly and compare your manifestos. The rest of us will continue to work in the real world with various systems and not be married to one. BTW.....MS is here to stay as is Linux. Not so sure about Solaris. (Though they are making a bit of a comeback)
        • Excellect Point

          "Some of the Solaris admins refused to use DHCP because it was a MS product."

          This statement is so telling on so many levels. It is perfect evidence of why it is so essential to have people who actually have solid knowledge about network protocols, operating systems, etc.
          Erik Engbrecht
          • This is one of my points

            Thanks....One of the points I try to convey is that there are plenty of stubborn/ignorant admins regardless of O/S. I have come across them from all O/S's.
            I'll concede one thing to ole fr0thy and Murphy....there are definitely paper MCSE's out there that know nothing except for the answers to a test.
            But there are also plenty of *nix folks out there that don't know much either or worse are so arrogant as to not be able to work with anyone.
          • A waste of pretty good sarcasm

            Bet he doesn't know Sol10 does AD out of the box either - do what i do: just shrug and move on.
          • Where did I say that?

            Please point out where I ever said that Solaris 10 does not do AD integration. I said we were using a 3rd party product to put our Solaris (and Linux) servers on AD. I like how you take my comment and twist it around to make something up that suits your needs. Eerily similar to the facts that you present in your blogs.
          • Don't waste your time...

            Our setup here is the Win/Solaris/Linux and everyone gets along great, we are small shop but a large company because the demand the work and service. Murphy and Frothy are lost ball in tall weeds - always have been ... however, they are very funny to read, but not worth the energy in their non-realistic views.
          • Sarcasm

            If by sarcasm, you are referring to the part where I said that the Solaris folks didn't want to use DHCP because it was a MS product, you are not entirely correct. I am not saying that DHCP is a MS product. In our case I meant that the Solaris folks didn't want to use DHCP because the DHCP server was a MS server and the Solaris folks viewed it as a "MS" thing. They saw it as a change and they were not used to change. This carried over to the Linux side when many of the Solaris folks migrated over there. It took Red Hat to come in and basically tell them they were nuts (in a nice way) for not using DHCP. In addition their server build process used a static address. So they could build 1 server at a time. While on the Windows side we were using PXE boot with RIS (DHCP of course) to build as many servers at a time as we could handle.
            Linux has all of these capabilities, and I agree with Erik that it is the people that implement it. (Not sure about Solaris as we are almost completely off of it)
        • AMEN! - well said. manifestos - LOL ---nt

  • Still making it up as you go!(nt)