Signposts of GNU/Linux Growth in 2007, Part 2

GNU/Linux took significant strides forward in areas ranging from servers to devices to cloud computing.
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In Part One of this article we looked at the growth of GNU/Linux in several areas, including high-performance computing (supercomputers), mobile phones, desktops, miniature laptops, consoles, and set-top boxes. There is a great deal of overlap between some of these areas, but they are certainly separable.

In this concluding article we look at the growth of GNU/Linux in still more tech sectors. This ought to demonstrate the tremendous presence that GNU/Linux quietly gained throughout the year 2007.


The term "server" is very generic in the sense that it covers a broad range of equipment and applications. For E-mail and Web services, for instance, there is a diverse set of systems that are operated so as to connect desktops and devices behind the scenes, so to speak. Application servers exist which blur the gap between the host (server) and the client. Even desktops and laptops can be compared to servers in terms of their function, but let's try to sub-divide the domains at hand in a sensible fashion and begin with Web servers in particular.

Google is often cited as a major success story and a poster child for GNU/Linux. It is a pioneer capitalizing on disruptive trends as it concentrates on software as a service. In 2007, Google was believed to be using approximately one million GNU/Linux servers around the world, but nobody knows the real number for sure, except Google of course, which consistently keeps those cards close to its chest. Google uses GNU/Linux almost exclusively despite its short experimentation with OpenSolaris quite some time ago (circa 2006).

Other large companies have already chosen GNU/Linux to run various types of servers. Examples include eBay and Amazon for some of their Web services (in-house) and Oracle for its products (clients). They became more vocal about their use of GNU/Linux in the past couple of years. Many others began taking pride in GNU/Linux rather than hiding it from the public eye. This trend can be generalized to account for other areas such as devices, which we will touch on in a moment.

The rise of the so-called 'Web 2.0' generation rationalized the need for high-capacity servers that are highly reliable and accessible (in terms of availability). Downtime is rarely acceptable when it comes to user-facing services, which deliver and receive data almost in real time. Downtime is hardly affordable because it can drive customers away.

With growth in the server market in general and especially with the gradual decline of aging Unixes, GNU/Linux deployments kept rising in quantity. Being free software, however, it was impossible to keep track of the number of installations. Moreover, the number of servers does not say very much because actual server capacity depends a great deal on the available hardware and software that runs on it.

Modern hardware and resource-efficient software require less units to handle the same load. Additionally, there is the emergence of virtualization to consider here. VMWare is the leading virtualization company (IPOed in 2007) and it actually started up with GNU/Linux for quicker market penetration. Server virtualization remains a GNU/Linux advantage – this platform is comfortably ahead of most counterparts. However, ironically enough, when it comes to statistics, this also means better distribution and pooling of resources, which results in improved consolidation and therefore a decrease in the number of servers that are needed.

In servers, a great deal of disinformation is being spread to paint a deceiving picture. Despite the fact that not all server units are sold and shipped, GNU/Linux gets counted in this old-fashioned way. Another mistake commonly made involves counting only the revenue made through sales of servers, regardless of the number of servers sold. By adhering to such measures, more expensive servers will be viewed as more popular among users, who are always assumed to be buyers, i.e. paying customers. As a measure of popularity or ubiquity, this is incompatible with free software like GNU/Linux.

Another important mistake is to assume that all GNU/Linux servers are sold, as opposed to deployed. As stated earlier, Google is estimated to have approximately one millions servers, but the number remains unknown due to corporate secrecy. Google is able to build and even distribute its own servers, so such server usage can easily go below the radar of industry analysts, whose definitions are strictly controlled by those who commission studies for vanity and marketing purposes. As pointed out earlier, there is also the issue of server capacity. If a Linux server can handle greater loads, then fewer such servers are required to handle the same amount of work.

Let's quickly look at some numbers from 2007. Market estimates have claimed a growth of 34% annually for GNU/Linux shipments, with strong evidence of growth in Red Hat's latest financial figures from mid-December. That is commercialized Linux alone; additional figures remain unknown and uncounted. Red Hat is still the leader in the Linux servers market. Looking at Red Hat's year-to-year growth, the company boasts a rise of 28% in sales, a 24% rise in cash flow, and an improvement measured at 39% for net income. Red Hat's shares rose 12% after these results were published. These figures, in general, put GNU/Linux ahead of everyone else when it comes to pace of growth.

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Tags: Linux, Google, virtualization, VMware, GNU/Linux

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