Linux services move into the mainstream

As more companies and government departments deploy Linux-based servers and desktops, the market for specialist support services is beginning to hot up, according to IDC

Business services supporting Linux and open-source applications are no longer a niche market, according to a report published by IDC on Thursday.

According to an IDC report entitled Services Around Linux, Open Source and Free Software in Western Europe , businesses and government departments will spend $98m on services to support their Linux systems in 2004. By 2008, this figure is predicted to increase to $228m.

Dominique Raviart, senior research analyst in IDC's European Services group, said that although Linux and free software only accounts for 1 percent of total spend on IT services, this sector is moving into the mainstream.

"There are several factors driving this market growth, not least the fact that many companies and the public sector are choosing Linux and free software as a cost-cutting measure. It is losing its niche status and emerging as a mainstream market," said Raviart.

The popularity of Linux in servers has steadily increased over the past few years, and the open-source operating system has even started making a small dent in Microsoft's strong hold over the desktop.

Linux's momentum has been helped by a number of high-profile customer wins, such as Munich, which last month confirmed that it would be switching 14,000 computers from Microsoft's Windows to the rival open-source platform.

Lionel Lamy, programme manager of European Infrastructure Management Services at IDC, who worked with Raviart on the report, said government contract wins have brought more visibility to Linux-based projects and the trend is expected to continue.

"At this stage, several public sector units are at the consulting phase. In the next two years, a number of them will begin migration projects," Lamy said.

James Governor, principal analyst at Redmonk, said it is easy to imagine the services market for Linux growing into something very substantial because people want the same support for Linux that they have for other systems.

"This is a big issue in open source because there is no substitute to calling someone and saying 'I have a support contract and I want someone in the building within two hours'," Governor said.

Because of the nature of Linux and open source, Governor said that many companies do not have to rely on external support, but as the penetration of the OS spreads, he expects more companies to require the "safety blanket" provided by IT service organisations.

"Support for open source is a big issue because people want a foot to stand on and a throat to choke when things go wrong," said Governor.