October 13, 2010

The Role of Linux in the “Impending” Cloud

Nicole Hemsoth

A survey-based report from The Linux Foundation and Yeoman Technology Group that was released looked at the growth of Linux in the large-scale enterprise space. It also shed some light on possible trends related to the role of cloud computing--and the role of Linux as an OS in a virtualized environment.

There’s a definite cloud angle to a recent survey-based report (they want your vitals first) from the Linux Foundation’s recent attempt to identify movement for Linux in the enterprise space. The organization recently partnered with Yeoman Technology Group to spot trends and revealed some surprising figures on the adoption of both Linux and cloud in addition to a host of other broader trends related to general market share—but we’ll hit on the cloud aspect in a moment.

The Linux/Yeoman team conducted the invitation-only survey from a pool over 1900 Linux users as well as a number of handpicked organizations and government agencies. While there were not many details presented about the specific industries or enterprise type, the Linux Foundation stated in its report (registration required) that of the pool, 387 respondents represented some of the largest organizations, large being defined as revenues greater than $500 million but on a more subjective level, those also with 500 or more employees.

While it’s important to note again that this is a survey conducted in part by the Linux Foundation, the results indicated that Linux is “poised for growth in the coming years.” Specifically, they point to the findings that “76.4% of companies are planning to add more Linux servers in the next twelve months. In contrast only 41.2% of respondents are planning to add Windows servers in the next year, while 43.6% say they will be decreasing or maintaining the number of Windows servers in their organizations over the same time period.”

Other survey results trying to pin numbers of enterprise Linux adoption have indicated similar, positive results, but what they haven’t touched on is the types of workloads that are involved. According to the survey, well over half of respondents (keep in mind that many of these are existing Linux users) stated that they would use Linux for “more mission-critical workloads than they have in the past.”

The Linux-Cloud Angle Or, Yes, It’s a Platform. Of Sorts.

Perhaps in the subheading of the report entitled, “Linux Leads in the Impending Cloud” something should have been done to highlight the word “impending” as critical or even…ironic.

In their light detailing of enterprise cloud adoption plans, with or without Linux, the Foundation’s general statement is that, “the cloud may be more hype than reality, at least with very large enterprise users.”

According to the findings, “cloud adoption is surprisingly low, with only 26% planning on moving applications and services to the cloud in the coming months.” These are large enterprise and government agency Linux users for the most part, thus the stakes are not only higher and riskier (depending on perception in terms of risk factor) but these are organizations with significant investments in hardware and personnel to tend to their needs. The striking part of their survey data is that 40.1% said they had no plans to jump on the cloud bandwagon in the next 12 months—but what about that remaining number who is mulling it over?

Despite that lower-than-expected (at least from this vantage point) figure, the authors contend that even still, “Linux dominates when moving to the cloud, with 70.3% using Linux as their primary cloud platform.”

Actually, one thing that doesn’t quite fit together is the notion of Linux as a “cloud platform.” While I am tempted to chalk this up as strange wording, it seems odd that the term “platform” would be used here given that “cloud platforms” in general involve a lot more than an OS.

It seems much more fitting to look at the Linux-cloud relationship as an application platform. The operating system issues are certainly different if you’re running a Linux EC2 instance versus running Linux elsewhere. In some senses, the OS is a non-issue unless you’re being forced to retool code to match OS with a particular application.

The role of Linux in the cloud is then, in some ways, a bit overstated in this survey. Perhaps more clearly put, the nature of cloud is not well-defined enough for readers to draw any significant conclusions from. One thing for sure, however, is that Linux is not a cloud platform necessarily.

What role does Linux thinks it takes in a virtualized environment when the role of any OS is in completely different territory?

It’s an interesting set of results on a market share level, nonetheless.

Again, all of this that’s been restated here should strike you as in need of a few grains of salt since again, the survey is based in a pool of existing users who are already aware of the support and technological expertise due to their own experiences. Still, for the cloud element and the practical market share aspect, this is a notable report, even if it can’t be taken as seriously as an “objective” third-party source.

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