All systems go

The effectiveness of next generation servers is dependent on their operating systems. What are their strengths and weaknesses?...

The effectiveness of next generation servers is dependent on their operating systems. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Christopher Walton and Shayla Bradshaw point the way forward

The evolution of the server operating systems can be measured by the evolution of the arguments about which operating system to use.

The basic options are Windows, Unix or Linux, each of which can offer advantage to your business. Each option is as credible as the other, and each has an ecosystem of support in place including recognised distributors hardware providers and support from independent software suppliers.

The growth and prevalence of the Intel platform has actually helped to propel Unix which has always offered a wide breadth of compatible technology, reliability, stability and security.

Unix has always managed to maintain it stranglehold of the enterprise sector and will always have a strong future. “Lots of large enterprises think, ‘why bother to change operating systems now as Unix will continue to exist’,” says Jon Collins, senior analyst at Quocirca.

Unix though will face increasing competition from Windows Server 2003, the replacement for the popular but outdated Windows Server NT 4.0 server operating system. In a bid to establish a new standard in enterprise computing to rival the powerful Unix infrastructure, Server 2003 boasts the corresponding developer tool Visual Studio.net 2003, Microsoft Exchange 2003 and a 64 bit edition of SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition.

Microsoft hopes that Server 2003 will extend its reach to the back office in the server environment. According to Collins, Windows Server 2003 was Microsoft’s first effective pitch to enterprise businesses.

“Windows Server 2003 was the first operating system that was really capable of doing what Microsoft wanted it to do,” he asserts.

“The market perception of Windows has improved… and as a result more and more companies are using it for mission-critical applications,” adds Martin Davies, managing consultant at independent service provider Morse.

He asserts that Windows should score well as the base for server applications in the Intel server space. Mark Blowers, principal analyst at the Butler Group, warns that IT managers have had to examine current systems infrastructures because of the rise in the use of alternatives in different departments throughout enterprises. This, has lead to escalating costs, and Linux has the capabilities to create a heterogeneous and cost –effective environment.

The rise of Linux has been so strong in recent years that despite the perceived migration risks, you may likely see the platform as a credible tier one strategic operating system. Given that Linux – supporting a variety of different processor types including Intel, AMD, Power4/5 and Mainframe – can provide you with a single operating system across a number of different architectures, it should reduce, not eliminate, your licensing and support costs.

Linux is a cost-efficient operating system, but the perception of it being free is misleading because you will likely obtain Linux through suppliers such as RedHat and pay for the associated support packages.

“[We have] taken the operating system and scaled it into something successful. Offerings with a support package are what people need to manage that technology,” says Paul Salazar, EMEA marketing director for RedHat.

“With a recognised structure in place, we believe the [Linux] model works extremely well, resulting in reliable, scalable software,” adds Steve Gaines, UK technical director at Novell.

For you to plan your server operating system for the future, the key point to remember is that competition, as in the IT market generally, drives the evolution of operating systems. Intel has its AMD when it comes to chips, IBM is rivalled by Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard in the server space and HP is being squeezed by Dell in the desktop market. Microsoft and Unix may have the installed bases and fundamentally most support in the market, but Linux is a serious and realistic alternative growing its market share.

Essentially the battle is no longer between operating systems themselves, or even open source versus proprietary, but is instead an application server debate. Previously you should have been concerned about the performance of the operating system but now the standard of operating systems means this is no longer an issue so your focus should shift towards your applications’ functionality.

“Vendor specific operating systems [have] had [their] time, businesses no longer want to be locked into one supplier,” says Quocirca’s Collins. Just as operating systems should lose their pivotal status, now application servers should be the most important part of your IT strategy.

“Now the debate is Weblogic or Websphere; companies should be thinking about what they are trying to achieve and grade the whole platform though the web server,” says Collins.

This was last published in October 2004

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