Moving to Linux may not save money--yet

New research from The Yankee Group shows that wholesale migration to Linux software could cost some companies more than an upgrade to their Unix or Windows systems.

Migrating to open-source software may cost some companies more than simply upgrading their Unix or Windows systems, according to a study research company The Yankee Group released Monday.

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Based on a survey of 1,000 information technology administrators and corporate executives at companies around the globe, Yankee's report concluded that the technical merits promised by Linux and applications built to run on the operating system have yet to overcome financial concerns related to adopting the software. At companies with 5,000 or fewer users, Linux can save more money than other systems, including Unix and Microsoft's Windows software, said the Boston-based company.

"Clearly, many people who have Linux like it a lot, but if you propose a wholesale swap to most large companies, you're looking at a significant up-front cost, and many executives are asking why they should do it," said Yankee analyst Laura DiDio, who authored the report.

Much of the expense of the open-source migration comes from shifting the IT architecture, DiDio said. However, many executives are reconsidering such a move because of a growing number of security threats and a dearth of experienced Linux administrators. Improved security has been one of the primary advantages Linux promises.

Another concern among users is the relatively small number of applications available on Linux, compared with Unix or Windows.

"Everyone has a Linux strategy, even if it's just to throw rocks at Microsoft," DiDio said. "But executives are asking if the advantages of Linux are substantial enough to justify the expense and inherent headaches of swapping all of their systems."

In response to the survey, Linux vendors said their customers often garner sizable savings from moving to their software. Leigh Day, a spokesman for Red Hat, the top seller of the Linux operating system, said their customers who switched say they have opportunities to spend less. Customers can also shift to cheaper hardware, specifically lower-cost Intel-based systems, she said.

According to DiDio, however, Microsoft has made inroads with many customers who were considering Linux. For example, the company has been improving its ability to protect against security threats and has reworded its product warranties to convince end users that it is willing to take on greater levels of liability than its Linux rivals.

Although Linux advocates will argue that open-source software will provide long-term savings, the analyst said executives remain unconvinced that the Linux market is currently mature enough to serve their needs.

"A lot of end users feel it's perhaps still better to deal with the devil you know than deal with the devil you don't know," she said. "They feel that it's great that Linux is out there as an alternative--in particular to Microsoft--but market maturity and the number of available applications are major concerns."

Yankee said it conducted the survey with Sunbelt Software and that the research was not sponsored by any outside company.

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