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Linux Management Cheaper Than Windows?

Is Linux cheaper than Windows to manage?

As part of its "Get The Facts" campaign, Microsoft has argued for years that Linux is more expensive to manage than Windows. A new study out this week from Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), sponsored by the Linux backers OSDL and Levanta, asserts that Linux is now in fact cheaper to manage than Windows.

Eighty-eight percent of survey respondents reported that they spend less effort managing Linux than Windows. Some 97 percent noted that, at worst, systems management effort is the same whether it's Windows or Linux.

The report also contends that Linux is cheaper to manage than Windows from a security point of view. 88 percent of respondents indicated that they spend fewer than 10 minutes per week per server managing malware and spyware.

"When asked to compare security management between Linux and Windows, the interviewees strongly endorsed Linux as easier to manage and inherently less vulnerable," the report states. "Only a small minority spend the same amount of time managing spyware and viruses on Linux and Windows. None reported spending more time on Linux than Windows."

Acquisition and resource costs for Linux are apparently lower, as well. EMA said that Linux acquisition costs may be nearly $60,000 less per server than Windows. The report also found that Linux is more productive since Linux system administrators typically handle more systems than Windows administrators.

The cost of those Linux systems administrators is also not necessarily that much higher (if at all) than their Windows counterparts, either. 17 percent of Windows administrators reported earning more than $70,000 a year, in comparison to 22 percent for Linux administrators.

For systems administrators earning less than $60,000 per year, 60 percent were Windows and 52 percent were Linux.

"One of the big issues over time has been that Linux skills were more expensive to acquire than Windows skills," OSDL CEO Stuart Cohen told "I'm glad that's gone away.

"Linux has gone mainstream enough that there are enough people out there that companies can now hire Linux skills and take advantage of that."

Though the report identifies Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, (at least in its hardware costs comparison) Cohen doesn't think it's the distribution that matters when it comes to cost of management.

"I don't think it's a given flavor of the distribution that matters, "Cohen said. "I think it's more experience level than anything else."

So what does Microsoft think of the OSDL-sponsored study?

"We're excited to see the OSDL join Microsoft in working to deliver insights and facts we know customers need to help inform their IT decisions," Microsoft's Martin Taylor, general manager of Platform Strategy said in an e-mailed statement.

Taylor noted that there is a need for more collaborative industry research that delivers a level of transparency in the methodology so customers are able to apply it in their technology decision-making.

"Microsoft continues to be open to working with partners and competitors, alike, to jointly commission research that helps all our customers engage in an informed and respectful debate on the facts," Taylor said.

The OSDL's Cohen sees Microsoft's Get The Facts efforts as being "just business."

"I don't think there was anything offensive about it," Cohen said. "Obviously they were just concerned about Windows keeping the market share that it has. It's just territorial. It's just business and I think that's fine."

It's important to note, though, that the EMA study does not specifically compare total cost of ownership (TCO) of Linux versus Windows.

Rather, the report focuses on whether server management on Linux is a barrier to cost-effective operations. Cohen noted that the OSDL has no plans at this time to commission or sponsor a study on Linux TCO either.

"We didn't really feel that it was necessary to invest in a lot of research based on the fact that Linux was already having a lot of success -- double-digit, quarter-on-quarter growth for the last 15 quarters," Cohen said.

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