Linux servers keep growing, Windows & Unix keep shrinking

2011 saw, according to IDC, Linux servers grow while Windows and Unix servers numbers shrank. In 2012, Linux's server future looks brighter than ever.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Linux servers are soaring.

Linux servers are soaring.

In 2011, we saw, according to IDC's latest Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker, factory revenue in the worldwide server market grew for Linux while it shrank for Windows and Unix. What I find especially interesting about this is that IDC doesn't measure when you or your company install Linux on a bare-metal server or a re-purposed server, which is historically how Linux got into companies, but only servers with Linux already pre-installed.

That means more and more customers are asking IBM, HP and Dell, the big three server hardware vendors, for Linux on their hardware. Specifically, IDC found that "Linux server demand was positively impacted by high performance computing (HPC) and cloud infrastructure deployments, as hardware revenue improved 2.2% year over year in 4Q11 to $2.6 billion. Linux servers now represent 18.4% of all server revenue, up 1.7 points when compared with the fourth quarter of 2010.

Its competitors? "Windows server demand subsided slightly in 4Q11 as hardware revenue decreased 1.5% year over year. Quarterly revenue of $6.5 billion for Windows servers represented 45.8% of overall quarterly factory revenue, up 2.6 points over the prior year's quarter."

As has long been the case, Unix is the server operating system that really got knocked around. "Unix servers experienced a revenue decline of 10.7% year over year to $3.4 billion representing 24.2% of quarterly server revenue for the quarter. IBM grew Unix server revenue 2.5% year-over-year and gained 7.9 points of Unix server market share when compared with the fourth quarter of 2010."

What that translates into is "fourth-ranked Oracle experienced a year-over-year revenue decline of 11.5% in 4Q11 to a 5.2% share of market while Fujitsu, ranked number 5, experienced a 10.5% decrease in factory revenue holding 3.4% revenue share in 4Q10." While Oracle also has a Linux distribution for IDC's hardware server measurement purposes, Oracle and Fujitsu saw their income go down as their Solaris Unix-powered systems continue to decline.

As Jim Zemlin, chairman of The Linux Foundation observed in his blog, "IDC attributes some of that Linux success to its role in what the analyst firm calls "density-optimized" machines, which are really just white box servers, and are responsible for a lot of the growth in the server market. These machines have gained popularity in a space still squeezed on budget and that continues to be commoditized. But there are other factors at play for Linux's success over its rivals."

These are, Zemlin wrote, "Our latest survey of the world's largest enterprise Linux users found that Total Cost of Ownership, technical superiority and security were the top three drivers for Linux adoption. These points support Linux's maturity and recent success. Everyone is running their data centers with Linux. Stock exchanges, supercomputers, transportation systems and much more are using Linux for mission-critical workloads."

In addition, Linux's growth owes a lot to "the accelerated pace by which companies are migrating to the cloud. Long a buzzword, the cloud is getting real, right now. While there is still work to do for Linux and the cloud, there is no denying its dominant role in today's biggest cloud companies: Amazon and Google to name just two."

Amazon's EC2 cloud, for example, has recently been estimated to have not quite half-a-million servers. And, what powers all those servers of the most well-known public cloud? It's a Red Hat Linux variant with the Xen hypervisor running on top of it.

Zemlin also notes that "The mass migration to cloud computing has been quickened due, in part, to the rising level of data: both the amount of data enterprises are dealing with but the also how fast that data is growing. IDC this week predicted that the 'Big Data' business will be worth $16.9B in three years."

It's not just the Linux guys who see Big Data as being a Linux and open-source play. Benjamin S. Woo, IDC Storage Systems program vice president said in a statement that, "The significant growth rate in revenue is underscored by the large number of new open source projects that drive infrastructure investments."

Corporate Linux users already know this. The Linux Foundation's enterprise survey showed that 72 percent of the world's largest Linux users were already planning to add more Linux servers in the next 12 months to support the rising level of data in the enterprise, while only 36 percent said they would be adding more Windows servers to support big data.

All-in-all, things are looking good for Linux servers and their users in 2012. Perhaps the biggest problem Linux-smart companies will face is finding enough trained Linux professionals to man all their servers. More than eighty percent of companies that use Linux are making hiring Linux professionals a priority.

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