Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/02/06/ubuntu_server_study/

Ubuntu shops believe in Ubuntu

But will they pay for it?

By Timothy Prickett Morgan

Posted in Servers, 6th February 2009 00:47 GMT

Is Ubuntu ready for prime time in the enterprise? Ubuntu users think so, according to a recent survey from Ubuntu's commercial sponsor, Canonical, and IT consultancy Red Monk.

Unlike many surveys that land on the desks of IT journos each week, the one done by Canonical and Red Monk was based on a very large number of responses. People from 6,819 companies answered questions about the operating systems they have deployed in their organizations and how these OSes are used to support mission-critical and other workloads. (You can see the results of the survey here). About 55.5 per cent of those polled for the Ubuntu server survey came from Europe, with 28.4 per cent coming from North America, 1.7 per cent from Africa, 5.2 per cent from Asia, and 5.2 per cent from Latin America.

The survey's first interesting bit is a scatter column chart that shows the distribution of operating systems at Ubuntu shops as the number of servers at a company grows. If a company has 50 or fewer servers and it has used Ubuntu, Linux slightly edges out even Windows in terms of server installed base. For companies with between 51 and 100 servers on site, Windows slightly edges out Linux, with both approaching 20,000 installations (the number of replies in this band times the average number of servers reported).

For larger companies, Windows outstrips Linux - and this is particularly true of firms with 1,000 or more servers, who reported a total of 170,000 Windows machines across all the firms in this band compared to a little more than 70,000 Linux boxes. (The Linux boxes include all Linux variants, not just Ubuntu, so don't think this is Ubuntu's share of operating systems at these shops).

This being an Ubuntu user survey, you'd expect Ubuntu to have the lion's share of installations. But rather than count the licenses installed, Canonical and RedMonk simply asked shops what Linuxes they used. So if they had Ubuntu, Debian, and Fedora, those counted one each. It would have been interesting to see how license counts (both physical and virtual) stacked up at these 6,819 companies. But this is not the data that Canonical and RedMonk present.

The Linux prevalence data was sliced up by small, medium, and large business classes, which showed some wiggling. Bigger companies tend to go for the traditional commercially supported Linuxes, but oddly enough, the prevalence of Ubuntu dropped among large enterprises.

Ubuntu was in use at 80 per cent of the companies - which presumably means the other 20 per cent are using Ubuntu in development but not production. Red Hat Enterprise Linux was in about 15 per cent (versus 40 per cent of large enterprises), and Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise was in 7 per cent (versus 16 per cent of large enterprises).

Debian was installed at more companies (30 per cent), as was the CentOS clone of RHEL (20 per cent). CentOS was more prevalent (by company count, not license count) than Fedora, which was installed at 10 per cent of those polled.

As you might expect, Web serving and Web application serving were cited by survey respondents as the most popular use for Ubuntu servers, followed closely by file serving, database serving, and a slew of infrastructure workloads where Linux has made a home for itself the world over.

Not surprisingly, the applications running Ubuntu were considered mission critical by these end users, and just over 90 per cent of the shops polled said they believed Ubuntu was ready to support mission critical applications. (Large businesses were a little less sure about that, but only by a small amount).

What Makes Ubuntu Go?

Canonical wants to get its arms wrapped around the features that make people choose a given operating system for mission-critical applications, and nearly 60 per cent said that hardware support - the ability of the software to run on a wide variety or iron and peripherals - was "very important" and another 25 per cent said it was "important." But application package and update management was cited as very important by nearly 70 per cent, with another 25 per cent saying it was important. Simple upgrades and proven security were almost as important to these Ubuntu shops, but business partner and commercial application support were not as important - nor was the size of the company providing the support.

Interestingly, 20 per cent of those polled said they run Linux (not just Ubuntu) on homemade servers, and another 23 per cent said they run Linux on tower or desktop PCs. Hewlett-Packard's x86 and x64 servers were cited as the platform for Linux OS deployment by just over 10 per cent of those polled, and Dell did well with over 15 per cent of companies saying they plop Linux on PowerEdge boxes. IBM's x86/x64 servers were cited by 6 per cent of those polled. Fujitsu-Siemens and NEC had some share, as did Sun Microsystems' x64 and Sparc iron. In some good news for Sun, nearly 5 per cent of large enterprises polled by Sun said they were deploying Linux on Sun's "Galaxy" line of x64 boxes. Generic Intel boxes were cited as the Linux platform by just over 5 per cent of shops polled.

People may make fun of cloud computing, but these Ubuntu shops seem to be taking it pretty seriously. A little more than 60 per cent of those polled said they thought cloud computing infrastructure was mature enough to support mission critical applications. This is a lower rate by far than what respondents said for Linux operating systems themselves, but it is a lot higher than many people might have expected. And happily for Canonical, which wants to get a slice of that cloud pie in the sky, 85 per cent of those polled said that Ubuntu was a viable platform on which to base cloud-style applications. But after all that, only 27 per cent of respondents said they were planning to deploy applications on clouds. So, "This is a great idea - but after you, mate."

In the meantime, Canonical is looking forward to seeing more Ubuntu installations. All but a few per cent of customers said they planned to deploy more Ubuntu Server Edition licenses in the future.

This sure beats the alternative: declining shipments. But strong demand for Ubuntu downloads and installations doesn't mean Ubuntu is a business. As is the case with all freely distributed software, whether it is open or closed source, the big long-term question Canonical faces is this: Can it make enough money from those relative few Ubuntu shops that feel they need enterprise-class support to keep doing what it does?

Paid support contracts give companies like Canonical the dough to pay people to do the hard work of creating a good Linux distribution, and most Ubuntu users don't pay for support. They use community support and they work it out for themselves. Commercial tech support was only cited as important or very important by a little more than 30 per cent of Ubuntu shops in this new survey. One of the reasons why Ubuntu shops don't care about the cost of support seems to be that they don't pay for it. ®