Yes, Linux is free. There are no licenses to buy. That's a fact. But to run it in the enterprise, Linux still requires ongoing support and maintenance that, in some instances, can cause the cost of Linux to rise to the cost of deploying any other operating system. p> ''There are multiple components to cost, and sometimes the emphasis on the license cost of the OS becomes just part of the discussion,'' said Yogesh Gupta, CTO of Computer Associates (CA).
The first step in deciding if Linux is the right OS is to look at where it will be used and what applications it will be running. If you want to deploy some new Web servers running open-source Apache, then it is almost a no-brainer to go with Linux since upwards of 80 percent of the Internet already runs very well on this proven combination.
And you can run Linux on off-the-shelf hardware that costs a fraction of proprietary boxes. This is where a majority of companies realize the most savings from Linux.
If, however, you want to port your SAP ERP install over to Linux, then you may have to do some homework. Is there talent in-house to make this happen? Will you have to hire an outside systems integrator? What will that cost? What about support and maintenance costs? Are the cost savings of a free OS worth the extra effort this may take? etc., etc.
''My take is that when people initially think about Linux, one of the things that is very attractive is its 'free','' said Al Gillen, research director, system software at IDC. ''It's almost a bait and switch if you will... If you start to consider putting Linux in any kind of 'mission-critical' role, you realize you need to have some form of support for that product.''
This means you will probably be buying support and upgrades from a commercial Linux vendor like RedHat or Novell, and that means, of course, that while the OS is technically free, maintenance and support are not.
But, in many cases, it will still cost less to do the same job with Linux than a competing OS, said Ed Weinberg, a systems integrator with Q5 Comm. Weinberg has been working with Linux since 1996 and spends most of his days doing Linux integrations in Windows' shops.
Then there is the question of talent. Do you have the right mix of people to run a large-scale Linux roll-out? Linux talent is not hard to find, but since most IT shops usually add an OS to the line-up instead of replacing one, notes Gupta, is it worth the added expense this will bring to the budget? Or, can you use your UNIX guys to run the Linux set-up since UNIX admin and developers are generally very comfortable using Linux?