Server operating systems seem positively boring in an era of cloud infrastructure, omni-virtualization, mobilized business and big data, but they are a necessary component of enterprise applications that still influences many IT decisions. However, we’re undeniably in the midst of technology transitions that will have profound implications for the server OS landscape over the next product cycle, many of which present new challenges to the dominance of Windows Server in enterprise data centers. As part of an annual survey of server OS usage and trends for InformationWeek, my advice to IT organizations and enterprise developers is to seriously consider the available options. Is is time to reconsider the status quo.
Linux is winning the fight for next-gen cloud-scale data centers, like those running massive consumer web apps or software-as-a-service businesses. But a survey conducted as part of the InformationWeek Report (full details available here) found that Windows Server still reigns in enterprise data centers, with some version of Windows running on 75% of respondents’ servers; a share projected to slip only a few points, to 72%, by 2017. It’s natural since the reality of managing a data center means administrative and automation features and support for legacy business applications are top of mind, and that last point in particular plays to Windows Server strengths.
Yet change is afoot as developers gain influence over OS choice. For them, deploying a feature-rich but resource-heavy OS like Windows Server as the back end for a vertical mobile app or internal SaaS-like application could prove unpopular and unwise. They are more likely to embrace a native cloud stack like OpenStack, CloudStack or vCloud, using whatever hypervisor is handy and a Linux host OS or Docker app container.
As I conclude in the report, instead of reflexively upgrading to the latest Windows server release, organizations should take an application-centric view of infrastructure provisioning, which I contend will increasingly lead to using alternative technologies like self-service cloud stacks, app containers and distributed big data systems. These decisions should drive the choice of hardware, OS and bare metal hypervisor, not legacy systems from the client-server era.