Updating perceptions

There's a real bottom line here:if you'relooking at a hardware or software decision any time soon - start by listing the thingsyou know for sure about relevant pricing and then go find out if any of them are truebefore committing further.

My blogging colleague Dana Blankenship recently committed a common anachronism with the comment that:

It would be very bad if Google were stuck with Sun's overheads, running expensive SPARC servers instead of cheaper Linux boxes.

There are two things wrong with this: first, Solaris on SPARC is actually more than competitive with Lintel and, secondly, Sun now makes the fastest and least expensive Lintel servers around.

On the other hand neither of us yet knows which would really be cheaper for a company like Google - running on SPARC/CMT or running on Opteron. As I mentioned on Monday, however, we may be about to find out that Solaris on SPARC/CMT, not Linux on Opteron, wins this cost/performance contest.

I stumbled across a much more extreme example of anachronistic opinion recently while talking to an internet and open source luminary who questioned my perception that Solaris is significantly better (on grounds of flexibility, reliability, and organisational performance) than Linux. His understanding of Solaris, it turned out, is based on personal experience - with SunOS 4.1.4 on something prior to the SPARC 10 in the early nineties!

That was unexpected - but walk down the hall wherever you work and ask people which costs more: Dell or Sun and almost everyone will give you the wrong answer. Ask almost any senior decision maker in Finance what a Unix server costs - and you'll get numbers in the half million and up range. Ask the same person what a PC costs and you'll usually get all-in estimates below the price of the Office software he'll tell you the machine comes with.

In other words both perceptions were set in intellectual concrete years ago, but the PC one includes beliefs about downward price change that got reinforced by some pharmacy's adsert in this morning's newspaper.

Like, the world changes, eh? But you know what's truly frightening? this is the information basis on which the majority of IT decisions get made: unexamined, usually anachronistic, personal certainties that get passed along as fact between individuals and through the media.

Computerweekly, for example, carried a story by Lindsay Clark last week under the heading: University's Linux migration cuts costs and boosts SAP performance that described Stirling University's migration from HP-UX on PA-RISC to Linux on Itanium in glowing terms:

"The Integrity systems offered better price/performance than comparable RISC-based systems, with the added bonus that we will maintain flexibility in choosing any operating system in the future," said Martyn Peggie, HR IS manager at Stirling University.

We can choose HP-UX, Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Windows. This will allow us to adapt to changing requirements over the years to come," he added. "We believe that with the current configuration of the IT systems, the servers will pay for themselves over the next three years just by savings in support costs."

The transition, as both this report and the source document proffered by Red Hat go to great pains to point out, gave these geniuses a whopping three times performance improvement over those archaic and high cost RISC boxes - which have been running this and other applications since before the April, 2000 go-live date for the SAP components and, at least in their minds, haven't changed in price/performance for at least the last six years.

There's a real bottom line here: if you're looking at a hardware or software decision any time soon - start by listing the things you know for sure about relevant pricing and then go find out if any of them are true before committing further.