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Linux, OpenBSD, Windows Server Comparison: Vertical Market Products

There are many more small and medium size companies than large ones and diversity of computing platforms generally decreases as company size decreases. Today there are many companies that are entirely Windows based if the entire variety of Windows family products are included. Few companies are fully standardized on a single Windows family product such as entirely Windows NT servers and desktop systems or entirely Windows 2000 servers and desktops, though the industry will see more such standardizations before it sees fewer.

More companies and organizations are predominately Windows based with some mixture of Macintosh, Novell and UNIX or other mid range systems included. A common configuration in companies with up to a few hundred employees, are totally Windows desktops with possibly a few Macintosh systems used for specialized, typically graphical, purposes. Recently acquired e-mail, web and database servers are most likely to be Windows NT serves and more recently Windows 2000 servers. Traditionally these small companies have relied on Novell file and print servers. As Novell servers age and are replaced, many companies are replacing them with Windows servers.

It's common for small companies to rely heavily on core business applications, which are typically vertical market applications, or general accounting systems plus one or more nominally "packaged" but likely customized application system. In the past, these types of applications have run on UNIX, AS400, VAX or other proprietary mid range systems, as PC based systems did not traditionally have the power to support the multi user loads these systems placed on processors. My career started on Wang systems. I can't remember when I last saw Wang mentioned in print and can't even remember the names of some of it's competitors.

By the time that Windows NT had matured enough that it was seen as a serious server platform, i.e., 4.0, and Intel processors had gained enough power to run server type systems, especially in multi processor configurations, users had come to accept Windows on the desktop and expected GUI interfaces to their applications, including their primary business applications. Most vendors of vertical market business applications, that used to run on UNIX or proprietary mid range systems, have moved to or redeveloped their applications on Windows Server systems. Some have continued to support the more viable of the UNIX systems, but many of the platforms used by vendors of vertical market software aimed at smaller businesses, have simply ceased to exist.

Small vendors of vertical market applications simply cannot afford to support a variety of operating systems. Even if they support a viable commercial UNIX, such as AIX, potential clients that already have Solaris or HP-UX are likely to, correctly, view AIX as a different system. By 1996, multi processor Windows NT server systems, of sufficient power to run most vertical market applications, were available. As nearly all potential clients were quite likely to have or at least already be considering Windows NT server purchases for other purposes, adding a Windows NT server to support a vertical market application would not generally be regarded as a further diversification of the computing infrastructure. Even better, from the client's perspective, if they already had or were planning to purchase a Windows NT server for other purposes, was the possibility of running the new application, on an existing server.

Without substantial experience with multiple Windows NT servers, and knowledge of what kinds of applications do and do not comfortably co-exist with each other, it will be difficult to predict how specific applications co-exist. In general, any application that requires rapid response, i.e., almost any interactive application including core business applications and web servers, do not interact well with any applications that place substantial and sustained disk and CPU loads on the computer, such as frequent heavy database queries or list servers. Where UNIX systems have the facilities to tune priorities, so that the batch oriented jobs do not have a major adverse impact on interactive users, Windows NT does not. I do not believe that Windows 2000 does either. Though performance issues may have some degree of predictability, there is no way to predict any stability or reliability conflicts that may arise on a Windows system, but are unlikely to occur on a UNIX system used for similar purposes.

The vertical market software vendor might have no good reason for expecting their application would not reasonably co-exist with other proposed applications. The vendor might in good faith recommend the combination or might recommend the combination even with good reason to anticipate problems. It's almost impossible to obtain meaningful performance guarantees from any software vendor. By the time the client is deep enough into any project to know that there are performance issues or software conflicts, it's almost invariably too late to back out. The vendor might even benefit from a substantial revenue stream, assisting the client in dealing with any problems that may arise.

The rapid growth of a variety of Windows based vertical market applications aimed at smaller businesses is an important factor pulling these businesses towards Windows servers. Generally the complexity of businesses does not decrease linearly with size; this is part of what is meant by efficiencies of scale. Small businesses tend to have larger software appetites relative to their ability to pay than large businesses.

Windows NT Server started with a target market well below the high end commercial UNIX systems. With each release and the addition of "enhanced" versions, it targets a higher performance market, but the basic version of Windows 2000 Server is still aimed rather modest scale businesses.

Anything that can significantly reduce the costs of an application is a major advantage for any software targeted at smaller businesses. This made many vertical market products a natural fit with Windows servers where the businesses they were aimed might have to stretch to acquire even the lower end of the high end UNIX systems. The ability of Linux to shave a thousand to several thousand dollars of operating and infrastructure software costs compared to Windows Servers and run on identical hardware makes Linux a natural fit for many vertical market applications, that will never go to AIX, HP-UX or Solaris. As Linux continues to eat into the Windows server market, many vertical market applications will follow it, making Linux a more obvious choice for a growing number of small businesses.

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