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News flash: Windows is cheaper than Linux!

Lots of people asked me today what I thought about the IDC study that says Windows is cheaper than Linux. I yawned.
Consider the source. Microsoft paid for the thing. You think IDC was going to come back and say Linux is cheaper all around if Microsoft was paying the bill?

Yes, sometimes it’s cheaper. If all your sysadmins know NT and don’t know Unix well, then yes, Windows is going to be cheaper.

But I can think of some times when it’s not. Like if downtime means anything to you at all. My clients scream when I have to reboot an NT server. But I can count on having to reboot a busy NT server once a year due to a lockup or general server stupidity. And virtually every security update is going to require a reboot. I can slipstream a Linux security update almost every time without a reboot–unless it’s a patch to the kernel, which is rare. With the right distribution, I can even upgrade distributions without a reboot. Try that when going from Windows NT or 2000 to something else.

I saw a story on DebianPlanet today about someone bragging he’d done a server migration in 3 hours. You’ll never do that with Windows. But you can do a migration even faster than that–copy everything over somehow to the new server, either through a tape backup or disk cloning, then adjust /etc/fstab as necessary, plop down a generic kernel straight from a distribution, configure the NIC if it’s not a close relative of the old one, and reboot. If you want to get fancy, compile a custom kernel tuned to the new server’s hardware. You can do it all in an hour. We dread the day any of our Windows servers is destroyed by some kind of accident and we can’t find an identical replacement. It’ll take us a minimum of 5 hours to install and update the OS and re-install whatever apps are on it and re-create whatever shares are on it, because that’s how long it takes us to set up a new one out of the box.

And maybe you’ve got picky clients like some of mine. One of them decided out of the blue that they didn’t like how their network shares were named. Never mind that everyone just calls it “the O drive.” Yes, they’re anal-retentive morons, but the client is always right. So one of my coworkers spent a thrilling Saturday un-sharing folders and re-sharing them with new names. On a Samba server, you can just load a text file, change some names, and restart the daemon. Done. The job that took 6 hours and was full of potential for human error is reduced to a few minutes. There’s still potential for human error, but it’s much less because the job isn’t as tedious and boring. And it’s much quicker to fix.

And don’t even get me started on tracking server licenses and CALs. Many organizations, when faced with a Microsoft audit, find it cheaper to just re-buy all of them than to spend the time tracking down the documentation that proves they’re honest. With Linux and open source, there’s no danger of having to pay for something twice, not counting the upgrades. (Those are free too, if you want them.)

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2 thoughts on “News flash: Windows is cheaper than Linux!”

  1. Reboot a busy NT server once a year from lockups, etc? We have several hundred servers where I work, about evenly split between Windows NT/2000 and *Nix (Sun, HP, a few Linux). I’d estimate that we average a couple of Windows reboots a day (not counting patches etc., just lockups, services can’t be restarted, etc.

    To be fair some Unix reboots occur too, but much less often, and these are often much more heavily stressed servers with hundreds of users. Even when they are rebooted, I think it’s often due more to admin inability to diagnose the problem rather than actual necessity.

    I know of one NT web application server that probably averages > 1 reboot per week. Windows has made a lot of strides in stability, but *nix is still the big winner for stability, security, and lack of virus worries.

    BTW, uptime for my RH 8.0 workstation is now 60 days, and it’s 61 days for my RH 7.3 server.

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