OS religion almost dead in the datacentre

While there's not much that's more fun than stirring up Linux and Windows zealots into a frenzy of spite against each other, we thankfully finally seem to be approaching a more measured universe in which technology choices can be made based on suitability rather than preconception.

While there's not much that's more fun than stirring up Linux and Windows zealots into a frenzy of spite against each other, we thankfully finally seem to be approaching a more measured universe in which technology choices can be made based on suitability rather than preconception.

I was reminded of this during the week while chatting with Marty Gauvin, the managing director of Hostworks, which specialises in enterprise application hosting. According to Gauvin, Windows and Linux boxes have a roughly equal share within the company's datacentres, and decisions made on platforms now tend to be driven more by business need than OS obsessions.

"The religion is going out of it. You really can't pick which way a customer would go," he said in an interview at the company's Adelaide headquarters earlier this week. "It's much more a platform-based decision."

That wasn't always the case, Gauvin notes.

"Initially, people's expectations of the two systems were quite different. It used to be you'd never run beta software on Microsoft boxes; you'd always run beta software on Linux. We had one client who every morning would want the daily build of Tomcat installed. But what's actually happened over time is the two platforms have got a whole lot closer."

That doesn't mean that there aren't still the occasional snags. Getting high-performance hardware to work with Linux can still be tricky. "We have more hardware compatibility issues with Linux than with Windows, though it's getting closer," Gauvin said.

Though the emergence of enterprise builds such as SUSE and (particularly) Red Hat has led to a degree of standardisation, Linux remains much more diverse even within a tightly controlled environment such as the Hostworks datacentre.

"Whereas I can say with a fairly high degree of certainty that 90 per cent of our customers in the datacentre are on the same version of Windows, I wouldn't say that about Linux," Gauvin said.

"The other interesting flip side is that the TCO for Linux is slightly higher because the cost of the licences and the cost of the maintenance and the sort of effort we need to put in — it comes out a bit higher, though only a few per cent."

Can anything drive those costs down? Gauvin would be keen to see a more uniform certification system for Linux techs. "One of the things the Linux world in general could do better is lift their vendor-supported certifications, so we could start to compare skill sets."