Selling businesses on the benefits of Linux has been a tough proposition for many years. Common reasons cited for not moving to the open-source operating system include system complexity, lack of in-house IT skills and a shortage of business applications. Both the open-source software community and the vendor world have done a lot to address these shortcomings, and the inroads gained are plain for all to see.
“Linux servers posted their second consecutive quarter of solid growth with year-over-year revenue growth of 8.4 percent for a total of $1.8 billion in the quarter,” said Matt Eastwood, an analyst at International data Corp. (IDC). “Linux-based servers now represent 13.7 percent of all server revenue.”
That percentage clearly demonstrates that Linux has made it out of the fringes. Not surprisingly, small businesses usage is also on the upsurge. Take the Whitelaw Twining Law Corp, for example. This 25-person law firm migrated from Windows 98 and Windows 2000 to SUSE Linux by Novell Inc.
“Migrating from Windows 2000 to SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop is no more difficult for end users than migrating to Windows Vista,” said Richard Giroux, IT manager at Whitelaw Twining. “We did a little up-front training with our employees and have had almost no help desk calls since.”
Maybe it’s time, then, to take another look at Linux on the desktop and/or the server side. We’ll look at the seven areas you need to consider.
Compared to only a few years ago, the hardware and component support for Linux is much more encouraging. You’ll fine far more processors, drivers, graphic cards and peripherals that support Linux than ever before.
“Companies have a vast range of devices and machines at every price and performance level,” said Gerry Carr, marketing manager at Canonical Ltd., the company that supports a desktop Linux version called Ubuntu. In most cases, therefore, hardware compatibility is not going to be an issue for any small business considering the Linux leap.
To combat the idea that it’s “hard-to-learn”, Linux now offers a lot of user-friendly server packages. These systems are set up to make it relatively easy for small businesses to install and run Linux themselves. Examples include server software by Red Hat Inc., SUSE Linux by Novell and Ubuntu Server Edition by Canonical.
While these products are less complex than before, that doesn’t necessarily mean an inexperienced business owner can download them and be off and running. “Skills can be an issue, particularly on a Linux server,” said Carr. “You might well have hired a Microsoft-trained IT staff and they will need to be re-trained for Linux or you may need new staff with Linux training.”
If the idea of importing new Linux talent scares you away from the proposition, another option is to use the support arms that have evolved within the Linux community. Red Hat and SUSE, for example, offer server software starting at $349 per year with basic support rolled in. More comprehensive support costs upward of $1,000 in some cases. Ubuntu is offered free by download, and support costs $750 per server per year
“Linux is a great solution for small business customers because it helps them avoid high licensing costs, viruses, vendor lock-in, hardware upgrades and unstable servers and desktops,” said Adam Viele, a technology specialist at CDW Corp. “Small businesses that choose an enterprise-class version of Linux will get a comprehensive IT solution along with the reliability of enterprise-class support a smaller business may not be able to afford otherwise.”