Windows 2000 servers are cheaper to run than Linux ones, sometimes, says an IDC study which was by strange coincidence sponsored by Microsoft. The study will come as welcome relief to Microsoft salespeople who have been parroting the 'cheaper than Linux' line to general disbelief, but whether anyone else will believe it is another matter.
Nor indeed should we take the study at anything like face value. IDC set itself the task of measuring total cost of ownership of the two server operating systems over a five year period, segmenting this into five areas of server operation. Over a period of years one would naturally expect differences in the purchase price of software and hardware to account for a declining proportion of TCO, with support and staffing costs accounting for an increasing proportion. And lo! This indeed is what IDC found.
However, erm, correct us if we're wrong but we were under the impression that obstinate corporate customers who hung onto their Windows servers for a whole five years without upgrading were more or less open source loving commies in the eyes of Redmond. We haven't as yet seen the full study, but suspect software upgrade costs, and the associated cost of new hardware during the period, may not have been entirely factored in to the Windows 2000 server tab. Linux can have similar upgrade cycles if you want it to, but there is really no similar hardware upgrade imperative if you do decide to move up a version.
Aside from that, the study looks maybe a little stacked in other areas. It finds the support and staffing costs for Linux are greater, largely because Linux systems are more difficult to configure, manage and support than Windows ones, this itself being because Windows has more mature, easy to use management tools.
Which from a certain perspective, i.e. a Windows network manager's perspective, is true.Large-scale, properly set up Windows networks with a ton of hardware and GUI management tools all over the shop needn't cost a lot in terms of machine minders, whereas an open source network without these tools will need the requisite number of skilled geeks making incantations over bash prompts. But this is comparing apples and pears, the geeks will serve you better than the deskilled machine minders when something goes badly wrong (which it will). In any event we doubt the smooth-running easily-managed Windows network actually exists anywhere outside of slideware.
The differences in cost IDC identifies are relatively small, and vary depending on the tasks involved. For example, supporting 100 users on a networking server would cost $13,263 for Linux, and $11,787 for Windows; obviously, the 'difference' here could easily be wiped out by a Windows server upgrade, or by the network in question being run by a company with a background in the Unix, rather than the Windows, space.
Windows also comes out better, according to IDC, in file, print and security. The first two are scarcely surprising, given that a chimp can drive them under Windows while under Linux you need a slight understanding of what you're doing, but it's not rocket science, and would be even less so if Microsoft were a little more helpful to the Samba team. And the third, security? IDC seems to be having a crack at conceiving the inconceivable, and we'd just love more detailed evidence.
There is however one area where the study reveals just the teensiest problem for Microsoft's sales people - Linux it finds (confirming the general received wisdom) is cheaper as a web server. Now, given that plugging computers together on a LAN, sharing files and printing is the stone age trivial stuff, while web serving is more in the 'next big thing for businesses' department, do we not foresee an impending catastrophe, given which it is that Windows is allegedly good at? If Microsoft believes this stuff at all, it should surely be deeply worried by this particular bottom line of the study.
For the record, IDC doesn't identify a particularly large gulf between cost here, it's less than 10 per cent. But as a corrective we offer a counter-study prepared earlier this year for IBM by the Robert Francis Group. This put the total cost of a Linux system over three years at less than half that of a Windows equivalent and, significantly, noted "some initial costs [for Linux] were higher at points." ®