If you look at the enterprise server operating system market, there’s Microsoft’s Windows server platform, there’s the UNIX platform and there’s Linux. To characterize it very broadly, UNIX has a large server market share but is in decline, Windows has a similarly large market share and is holding steady, and Linux has a smaller market share that is on the rise.
Looking to the future, it’s likely there will be the mother of all market share fights between Windows and Linux for the market share UNIX slowly gives up.
Now it benefits anyone who’s a potential server OS user if the fight is an even one. What’s needed is good strong competition between the two platforms, resulting in two robust systems with the features that enterprises want. There are major differences between proprietary and open source software — in terms of philosophy, the way they are architected and developed, the ecosystems that surround them and the total cost of ownership — so it’s likely that a fair fight will lead to very different solutions evolving. Some enterprises will choose Windows, some will choose Linux, and some will choose both.
But here’s the problem. Microsoft is, well, Microsoft. In the Windows market, it’s dominant. In fact, it’s a monopoly. The 35 percent of the server market (or whatever the exact figure is) that belongs to Windows belongs to Microsoft. But the same can’t be said on the Linux side. When it comes to supported, updated and paid-for enterprise Linux, there’s two major players: Red Hat’s Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES). They are slugging it out (with Red Hat enjoying by far the larger market share) while simultaneously as trying to land a punch on Microsoft’s nose.
Now I’d be contradicting myself if I said that competition wasn’t good, but you can argue that RHEL and SLES already get it to a greater or lesser extent from the plethora of community supported distributions out there. But to compete in the best way possible with the Windows platform what’s needed is a single Linux champion to take on Microsoft.
Some might say SLES is the obvious candidate in that it’s backed by Novell, and with other strings to its bow Novell should be better able to withstand any price wars or other financial problems a Linux champion might encounter. But there’s a problem with this argument. Over the years Novell has comprehensively had its ass whipped by Microsoft. What it comes down to is this: Microsoft is a winner while Novell is a perennial loser.
But it gets worse. Novell, as we all know, is in Microsoft’s back pocket when it comes to SLES. The Redmond giant subsidizes SLES by buying support coupons off Novell (it’s committed to up to $340 million worth so far), which it uses to get Microsoft customers who are interested in Linux to spurn Red Hat.
What this comes down to is an enormous market distortion. Red Hat must compete in the enterprise Linux space with a company receiving huge dollops of cash and other help from Microsoft, while at the same time trying to compete with Microsoft. It may be nice for Microsoft customers that want to run Linux as well get SLES on the cheap courtesy of their friends at Microsoft, but what happens when the Microsoft money tap is turned off?
Novell is already having a tough time making money out of SLES (its Linux invoicing was down 42 percent last quarter), and it is overly reliant on Microsoft to get it new customers. Who’s going to be laughing when the cash stops? Microsoft. That’s who. And it’s Linux users who will suffer if Red Hat (or anyone else who can compete fairly and squarely for the penguin dollar) lack the resources to develop offerings to compete with Windows because Novell managed to pocket more than its fair share of the dough in the past.
What’s really needed is good, fair competition between Windows and a Linux champion with enough resources to put up a decent fight. That should probably be between Microsoft and Red Hat — certainly not between Microsoft and what some call Microsoft’s lapdog.
So what then, if anything, IS the point of SLES?
Paul Rubens is an IT consultant and journalist based in Marlow on
Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally
sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a
DEC PDP-11 in 1979.
This article was first published on ServerWatch.