Analyst: Virtualization will stall Linux

International Data Corp. analyst Dan Kusnetzky predicts that virtualization will decrease the importance of the operating system in IT infrastructures.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Linux is almost on top of the world right now. But "almost" is as far as it's going to get, according to Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of system software at Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp. Speaking at last week's Enterprise Linux Forum Conference & Expo, he predicted that Linux will not topple Microsoft or make huge gains in server operating system market share.

So far in 2003, Linux is the fastest-growing server platform, with roughly 26% of all shipments worldwide, according to IDC. Windows owns about 44% of worldwide shipments. Shipments of every other OS, including Unix, have declined.

In the near future, "when you look across the infrastructure, you will see Linux, and you will see Windows," said Kusnetzky. Only occasionally will another OS will be part of the mix.

Although IDC expects Linux revenues to grow 174% by 2006, to $5.9 billion, Linux will probably never hold more than 30% of the server OS marketplace, Kusnetzky said. It will have to settle for runner-up to Windows. The reason? Linux has become an enterprise operating system contender in the twilight of operating systems' infrastructure dominance. Widespread virtual-environment adoption will speed the current trend toward OS commoditization and decrease OS importance in IT infrastructures, he said.

IDC is certain that businesses will move to on-demand and virtual computing. Recent surveys of IT decision makers revealed these market drivers:

  • Organizations are seeking to lower overall costs of computing. IT shops with static budgets are expected to do more with their systems, Kusnetzky said. Those with shrinking budgets are commanded to maintain the status quo.
  • Companies need agile and responsive IT systems. IT systems have to be able to keep up with constantly changing, competition-induced business requirements.
  • IT systems have to be resilient and tolerant of natural and man-made disasters.

Virtual computing creates the appearance (to the user) of a single, unified computing environment. "In reality, it may be distributed all over the planet, " Kusnetzky said. Google is a perfect example, he said. A Google user taps into 15,000 servers that appear to be a single resource.

An optimized virtual processing environment provides a computing service that is always available, thanks to replication of functions and failover. No matter what volume is thrown at it, it doesn't crash. "It survives the loss of any component without the knowledge of the application user," Kusnetzky said.

Vendor, OS and architecture neutrality are critical requirements for this environment, in which new and old technologies work side by side. So, as virtualization increases, the value of an OS decreases.

Whether opportunities for Linux exist in the virtualized environment depends on market forces, Kusnetzky said. Linux's low-entry price will be a boon if the drive to a commodity OS continues. But fewer companies could shift to Linux if Web services and virtualization take off.

Whatever way the market goes, Microsoft will probably flourish, Kusnetzky said. Thanks to the ongoing addition of proprietary tools to its proprietary OS, Microsoft will be immune to the OS decline. It's likely that Microsoft will buck the trend toward vendor neutrality in virtualization technologies, creating a proprietary platform for virtualization.

Virtualization and on-demand computing are definitely coming, so IT shops need to prepare. Watch standards developments, Kusnetzky advised. Evaluate Linux, and consolidate systems and resources. Make it so new applications use some form of virtual environment. Most important, he concluded, "move carefully!"

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