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Where is Linux's Answer to Microsoft's Small Business Server?

No Linux LAN Server

  • November 2, 2009
  • By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
It's funny isn't it? By default, any Linux distribution comes with business server functionality like an e-mail, file, and print serving, but Microsoft still gets the lion's share of the small business server world. What's going on here?

I just installed Ubuntu 9.10. Just like every other full-featured Linux distribution it includes a Web server, Apache 2.2.12; an e-mail server, Sendmail 8.14.3; and a Windows-compatible file server, Samba 3.4.0. In short, Ubuntu 9.10, besides being a great desktop, makes a great server. So why the heck aren't more small businesses using it that way?

Linux has long been a major server player in medium and large businesses. According to IDC, even in an awful server market, "Linux servers now represent 13.8% of all server revenue." That's a misleading number though. Many businesses run either their own take on Linux or a community Linux distribution like Debian, Fedora, openSUSE, or CentOS and don't pay a dime to any server vendor.

Windows Small Business Server Rules

But when it comes to small businesses, many businesses are sticking with Windows SBS (Small Business Server) 2003 or considering moving to SBS 2008. Uh... why? SBS pricing has increased considerably with the release of SBS 2008. The Standard SBS 2008, with five CALs (client access license) now costs $1,089. If you want a database with that, SQL Server for Small Business, it will run you $1,899.

The cost of Ubuntu 9.10 with an unlimited number of clients and MySQL 5.1.37 for your database work? $0.00. Now, of course, the upfront cost is only part of the story. That said, to run any server operating system, whether it's Windows, Linux, or what-have-you requires expert knowledge. Since a small business, particularly these days, are more likely to have expertise instead of money on tap, you'd think Linux would be growing quickly in small businesses. It's not.

Why not? George Weiss, Gartner VP and Distinguished Analyst, said it's partly a problem with how Linux companies sell Linux. "Linux distributors primarily see distribution as a packaging exercise, not a marketing one--rightly or wrongly. They will fashion the package at the device level such as server, PC, mobile. But the specific application or business focus, it seems to me, are up to the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), channel partners, SIs (system integrators), ISVs (independent software vendors), etc. to create the end user environment, whether it's HPC (high-performance computing), SMB (small to medium business), Web, app, DBMS, etc."

Weiss added, "They also want to keep the subscription plans as simple as possible. Red Hat not too long ago simplified some of its plan although it still includes a pretty complex matrix."

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