Operating systems

Few users like to talk about operating systems as they lack the substance of enterprise hardware or the glamour of applications. However, as the operating system market matures and both Linux and Windows become an acceptable enterprise alternative to Unix, it appears as though local users now have some tough choices to make about which operating system will serve them best.

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By  Maddy Reddy Published  July 29, 2004

|~|HP_Samer-Karawi1.jpg|~|Samer Karawi, marketing manager, enterprise systems group, HP Middle East.|~|Any organisation — be it an large, small or medium sized — needs access to applications, printers, data and communication services in order to function efficiently. To achieve this connectivity, businesses need a network operating system (OS). Also referred to as a server OS, it is a software stack that gives a host or central computer the ability to communicate over a network and offer users access to services and resources based on standard protocols. Network OS’s have existed for more than thirty years, starting with Unix. In 1984, Novell introduced Netware — the first widely adopted server OS outside the mainframe and Unix arena. Since then, the landscape has seen some sweeping changes, but today the bulk of OSs — including the dozen robust Unix flavours, mainframe-based OSs, variants of Windows and scores of Linux distributions — all offer the standard network services needed by an enterprise. While the need for a good client server-based OS is no longer debated, which OS to standardise on. Considering the fact that IT managers are actively reviewing server consolidation to simplify their IT environment and cut operating expenses, the decision is more imperative than ever. Hazem Bayado, technical director at Novell Middle East, says with the market offering greater choice than before, customers should scrutinise OSs even harder: “Before choosing a server platform, users should identify uses for the server. The uses can range from infrastructure, database, or even basic file-print-mail services. The applications usage should largely determine the choice of the server OS. If users want high availability, that server platform should support clustering. There has to be real need, based on performance, application availability, manageability, support and other factors. If all other criteria are the same, then it comes down to cost,” he says. While there are a variety of OS flavours on the market, it is dominated by the trio of Windows, Unix and Linux. While the first two have been the key players for some time, Linux is gaining ground. Evidence of this growth comes from IDC, which reports that sales of Unix OS versions are declining 8.9 % year over year, with Novell Netware slipping by 12.4 %. It also shows that Windows and Linux servers combined will account for more than 50% of server market revenues in 2008 — up from just 37% in 2003. Combined, Unix and Linux market share will touch 3.5 million servers sold, or 37.6% of the market by 2008. Elsewhere, Ovum expects the business market for Linux related services to grow tenfold in the next four years, from US$400 million to US$4 billion. Such is the current market force of Linux that a number of small OS companies are using the open source solution to force their way into the market. For example, Nitix is a Linux kernel based OS that is being touted as the world’s first autonomic server. The patent pending 20 M/byte OS is self-managed, healing, configuring, optimising and protecting. Omantel and several small-to-medium sized businesses (SMBs) in the region have already signed up for it. “Nitix is autonomic, which means its user friendly even for non technical people. All the services are just a tick box away. A complete installation and configuration of Nitix can be achieved for a five-user installation within one hour, compared to installing Microsoft small business server, which takes between four to eight hours. Nitix has the edge by the ratio 4:1 to 8:1 in terms of implementation and support cost,” claims Arvind Gupta, business development manager at Yogi Java, the Middle East partner of Nitix. To battle the onslaught of Linux, the large Unix vendors such as IBM, HP and Sun Microsystems are consolidating their OS portfolios. HP for instance, which currently offers HP-UX 11i, Linux, MPE/iX, Open VMS, Tru64 Unix, plus Windows and Netware, is clearing up it’s overcrowded OS platter. It has announced plans to move everything to Itanium from Intel and Opteron from AMD. It is also phasing out its Alpha line and PA-RISC chip from its roadmap by 2007 and plans to stop producing proprietary environments. “The multiple server OS offerings is one reason why we are moving to fewer operating systems. HP is grouping Tru64 with HP-UX to create a new version of HP-UX. [Eventually] we will have two main HP OS’s, Open VMS and HP-UX. We are phasing out everything else and reducing the number of proprietary environments,” says Samer Karawi, marketing manager, enterprise systems group, HP Middle East. Even Novell, which has a reported 350 million Netware users, is considering consolidation. “Novell’s strategy is to marry Netware 6.5 and Suse Linux 9 into our upcoming Open Enterprise server by December this year. It will be a dual-Netware and Linux [offering], so customers can install Netware or the Linux kernel and access all the services of both the platforms. We’re trying to take the best of both,” says Bayado. Another tactic being employed by the Unix vendors to tackle Linux is to embrace the open source community. For instance, Sun Microsystems, which is gearing up to release the next major version of its operating system — Solaris 10 —in January 2005, has announced plans to open source Solaris. Despite being tight-lipped on the subject, there are hints that Sun’s open source strategy will resemble the collaborative process behind Java. It may even see a stripped-down version of the Solaris kernel being made available. “Linux and x86 do not deter any of our revenues. Our revenue comes from a total environment solution provided to the customer and not from a few parts. In the long run, Solaris is still our core competency, where we still bring in the major innovations. The Linux side is more about customer choice on the low-end servers. We believe in choice, that’s why we are supporting Windows and Linux in our low-end AMD based servers,” says Hein Vandermerwe, operating systems ambassador, Sun Microsystems, Middle East North Africa (MENA). Although Sun and other Unix vendors may not admit it, Linux has proved to be a disruptive technology, forcing them to offer the OS and the x86 platform in the name of choice. Even IBM, with its extensive server OS portfolio ranging from AIX to mainframe OSs, is championing Linux as a better alternative to regain market share from Windows, while reserving its Unix wares for the high end. “The Unix server market continues to be very important in our market share, while Linux is the fastest growing operating system — that’s why we offer that as a choice on our server line. Its not damaging Unix, its only complementing it as there are a lot of similarities. We see Linux as ‘Unix Lite’. As Linux matures it will be a logical deployment on our high-end Unix servers,” says Eric Schnatterly, worldwide executive, pSeries sales manager, IBM. While Unix vendors are trying to align with Linux by rejigging their OS offerings, pure play Linux vendors such as Redhat are attacking the market with aggressive pricing. “Customers who were [earlier] spending lot of money on software licenses and expensive hardware are now migrating to Linux. If customers save on the OS, they can instead deploy more applications and spend the money in training, hardware and support,” says Tewfik Zitouni, managing director of Open Net, Redhat’s Middle East partner. ||**|||~|IBM_Eric-Schnatterly_S1.jpg|~|Eric Schnatterly, worldwide executive, pSeries sales manager, IBM.|~|One local user that has bought into the Linux pitch is Emirates Industrial Gases (EIG), a producer and distributor of industrial, medical and specialty gases. It has selected the open source OS to run its ERP applications and collaboration suite in a bid to stem software-licensing costs. “Our management wanted to cut down software costs and we wanted more administrative control right down to the system-level source code in the network. Earlier, most of the IT spend went into software licenses, now we are diverting it [our budget] to buy hardware,” says Payam Irani, system administrator, Emirates Industrial Gas. Prior to the migration last year, EIG ran its inhouse developed ERP system on Windows NT 4.0. Faced with performance bottlenecks and an aging OS, the company had a choice between upgrading to the just released Windows Server 2003 or evaluating the alternatives such as Unix or Linux. Eventually, the company decided to divert its licensing budget into Linux and invest its savings in better hardware. “The money we would have spent on Windows server 2003 went into new hardware. We spent around US$1500 for the entire server license, which allows unlimited users. Similar quotes for a five-user Windows server license started at US$2700,” says Irani. EIG now runs its entire ERP suite, collaboration applications and other network services such as mail, web, proxy, DNS, LDAP, firewall and application servers on a Linux cluster. And, once the costs savings and benefits of Linux are quantified, EIG plans to migrate its other branches to Linux and consolidate its Windows clients to align with the Linux servers. To do so, EIG is staying put for product advancements. “We have plans to migrate to Oracle 12i, that’s supposed to be totally web-based so you don’t need Windows — all you need is a browser. Then we plan to migrate away most of the Windows clients to Linux, instead of upgrading to Windows XP,” says Irani. While the early adopter stance of EIG and the vendor wrangling surrounding Linux and Unix suggests they are the only OSs in town, the simple fact is that Microsoft dominates in much of the Middle East and worldwide. In fact, IDC reports that Windows-based servers will capture 60% of all server unit shipments in 2008 and will continue to represent the largest server-operating environment, notching up revenues of US$22.7 billion. As such, the continued talk of low cost Linux is a constant thorn in the Redmond giant’s side. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch in any industry,” says Haider Salloum, marketing manager, Microsoft South Gulf. “The Linux vendors don’t charge for OS but they charge for the updates. Instead we charge for the OS license, but give the updates and patches free — it works out to be the same. Vendors are offering free Linux, but charging for the apps and services instead,” he argues. To tackle the Linux juggernaut of discount pricing and the arguably superior Unix, Microsoft is now turning to its legions of certified engineers, partners, developers and support staff. It is also relying on its sales and marketing armies to persuade existing enterprise customers to upgrading rather than migrate. To battle with the portly penguin, on a product level Microsoft is shipping a high performance computing (HPC) edition and gearing up to release 64-bit versions of Windows Server 2003 in early 2005. “This year and in 2005 our focus in the region is to help customers on older versions of Windows Server with the migration to Windows Server 2003. We will also have a campaign to assist Unix and Linux users in a smooth migration via the Windows environment,” says Salloum. Evidence of Microsoft’s success so far comes in the big names it continues to recruit for its OS. Just recently, the vendor convinced Saudi Aramco to upgrade its Windows 2000 backend to Windows Server 2003 and Exchange 2003, as well as streamlining collaboration services and web access globally on Windows. The project, initiated in September 2003, involved upgrading Saudi Aramco’s Windows back office infrastructure to the Windows Server 2003 platform. “The upgrade allows us to enhance security; expand infrastructure; increase scalability potential; improve performance and introduce a much simplified management approach to the Windows server infrastructure. The upgrades include all domain controllers, its web farm, Exchange messaging services and enterprise applications running on the Windows platform,” explains Abdulaziz Al-Otaibi, IT project leader at Aramco. Aramco has also upgraded the company’s existing domain infrastructure and its entire mail system from Exchange 2000 services, which hosts over 60,000 mailboxes to Exchange 2003. The project was based on the Microsoft Solutions Framework and completed in 12 weeks, after which Aramco switched to Windows 2003 native mode for better performance. According to Abdulaziz, the upgrade provided the opportunity to consolidate and reduce the company’s Exchange clusters. Microsoft says it has reduced administration overheads and management complexity by an estimated 40%. “Aramco still runs part of its operations such as HPC on Solaris and Linux. Cost, though important is not the only criteria for a large company like Aramco. They went in for other issues such as support, customer references and are now standardising on it,” says Ihab Al-Tayyeb, Aramco technical account manager, Microsoft. While IDC’s figures suggest that Aramco will not be the only big name user sticking with Microsoft in the near future, the Redmond giant can ill afford to rest on its laurels as Linux distributors and vendors such as HP, Sun and IBM ramp up their open source OS operations throughout the Middle East. After all, according to Meta Group’s Phil Dawson, the amount of commercial support an operating system receives has a direct impact on its success. “The OS market share is [eventually] determined by vendor push, as each vendor goes to market differently. Some vendors have a direct and strong model, some use third parties or channels. Local support and contracts are a big issue. Linux vendors are yet to have a strong presence in the Middle East — the primary support is still from the tier-1 vendors such as HP, Sun, Oracle and IBM. We expect these vendors to put some meat on the bone in the next 18 months,” he says. ||**||

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