Small Businesses should consider Linux

Many small business owners haven't heard much about Linux. Its not surprising. Most have better things to do than worry about IT technology. After all they have a business to run. That look to their IT staff, consultants, etc. to guide them as to how they should navigate into the world of technology now and in the future.

But what if they were getting the wrong advice. A 21st century business relies more on technology for almost all aspects of its operation than ever before. Whether that be the presence they have on the Internet, or the data in their databases, their eCommerce transactions, their sales force automation, their workcenter automation, accounting, etc. I mean its all technology now.

Linux

Whereas 20 years ago, a small business might have one or two computers, or might be just starting to enter the world of local area networking and even have a server, today that's a no-brainer. Every business has lots of computers. They probably have lots of servers. Maybe some are in their computer room. Others are externally hosted or in 'the cloud'. The fact is that business would simply shut down without technology, so there is a lot more riding on the success of the technological infrastructure today than ever before.

Now with the stage set, let's introduce the players. We all know about Windows. After all it comes pre-installed on pretty much any computer you buy from any 'Big Box' electronics or appliance store. 99% of the time you don't have a say in the matter. Unless you are buying Apple manufactured hardware, its likely that the Dell, IBM, HP, Asus, Acer, etc. computer you want will have Windows on it.

But what if you learned that this whole OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) agreement that these big computer makers had with Microsoft was built on unfair trade practice, and in fact was deemed unlawful in the late 1990s by the US Federal Govt? And what if, when Microsoft was found guilty of unfair trade practice, that they never really had to serve any penalty phase for that. That this ongoing practice continues to this day, meaning you have no choice in the matter?

Well despite your acceptance or rejection of this from a purely philosophical manner, let's break this down as to why financially it affects you and why you might want to re-think your entire IT strategy, removing Windows from the mix where possible, and replacing it with the free and open source Linux operating system. Here's a bunch of reasons why a Microsoft operating system choice across your small business network might not be the right way to go (at least on your servers):

Linux is FREE - Windows costs money

At the time of writing, a typical Windows Server 2008 Small Business Edition costs about $1,500 to purchase. More if you have a lot of users attached to the server. Linux costs $0. Fact.

Linux is more efficient and doesn't need uber-expensive hardware

Windows has a nasty habit of being inefficient and trying to take advantage of every blip of power from the computer hardware it runs on. This typically means you don't have the choice as to what level of computer server you need to buy to run Windows. Its going to need a lot of CPU power, RAM, etc. just to feed the Windows operating system. That's before you start running anything on it.

Linux typically runs as efficiently on hardware of about 30-40% the power (and price) of Windows server hardware. We routinely are able to take older boxes that are up to 10 years old, and give them an entirely new lease of life by just installing Linux on them. So for less stressful tasks on your network, Linux makes an ideal choice in terms of keeping your hardware costs down.

Linux is secure

Unlike Windows, Linux was built on a security foundation from the start. As a result, there are few viruses out there that can affect Linux. This means that a large percentage of the time you are paying your IT staff or consultants to police for viruses, or paying for virus subscription services, etc. go away. Their time and your money is better spent trying to move forward, and take advantage of business opportunities - not deal with the ongoing threat to your entire IT infrastructure of a rampant virus attack on Windows.

And investing in a shaky technology foundation that is targeted by virus authors isn't good business strategy. Yet this is fundamentally what is done when an organization just goes with Windows because its already installed on their hardware they got from the store.

Linux doesn't have a business model requiring constant re-investment in both the operating system and computer hardware

Microsoft exists as a corporation on the premise that you will 'outgrow' your current computer hardware investment every 2 or so years. Therefore this means that there is a possibility of a cartel between the operating system manufacturers and computer hardware/chip suppliers, who want to see this ongoing stream of revenue. But what do you really get out of it? Nothing really. The newer computer will work faster for a short period of time, before it starts to show signs of lagging under the stress. Your IT consultants make a lot of money charging you labor fees to upgrade everything all the time. And its all in the name of a better computing experience.

But is it really? We don't think so. Our clients typically have better things to do than to spend their time in 'gadget heaven'. After all they have a business to run. If they want to use gadgets, they can have fun with them at home, but at work - business is business. Its about saving money, maximizing return on investment, maximizing yield on capital equipment, reducing labor needs, etc. This is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum when dealing with a vendor business model of built in obsolescence, particularly well before its time.

Linux doesn't 'lock in' a customer

Some computer manufacturers, particularly Apple, have an attitude that they feel you can't be trusted with their technology. As a result, they'll tell you what you can and can't do on it. They'll dictate the terms of the types of hardware needed (normally priced far higher than the market prices for similar hardware) and then restrict its use to 'accepted practices' based on licensing terms & conditions.

Linux doesn't do this. You (and your computer consultants, IT staff, etc.) are completely free to use Linux anyway you choose. In fact you are encouraged to do this. Linux is entirely free and open source for a reason - so that no one can dictate to you how you use your IT technology. After all, you need that level of control yourself. No one thinks you shouldn't be allowed to do something because you'll hurt yourself. They understand you need the flexibility to do what you need to do, yet you want to work with an operating system that makes it easy yet respects your rights.

Less labor required to manage Linux

IT labor costs typically represent far more in terms of IT expenditure than capital equipment costs. So anything you own that requires less labor to manage it, therefore costs less money to the business. With the security model of Linux and a larger development community around software than run on it, Linux servers (when setup correctly) "just work". This is why 75% of the world's web servers, and 95% of the world's Internet Service Providers, run Linux. They can't afford the entire network of the world, the Internet, to go down. Linux delivers in mission critical environments, and doesn't require an army of 'certified' experts to run it.

There's hundreds of thousands of experts you can call on

Linux is a community. This means that you can find Linux experts everywhere. Simple questions typically can be answered for free on the various chat servers, websites, forums,etc. for Linux on the Internet. But if you need IT experts, then they are everywhere to be found. And we would argue that IT experts that know Linux are typically the elite level of the industry. They understand better the fundamentals of how your technology works, and therefore can likely provide a more creative and adaptive solution to your business requirements, rather than having consultants that are just 'singing the party line' of Microsoft.


OK, so let's look at this from a financial perspective. Let's say you need to get a server for your small business. You want to use it for shared file storage, maybe run a web server, maybe some email. Let's compare a Windows solution over a four (4) year period vs. a Linux solution:

Item
Windows Cost
Linux Cost
Year 1 - Hardware Purchase
$3,000
$3,000
Year 1 - OS License
$1,500
$0
Year 1 - IT Labor Setup
$2,000
$2,000
Year 1 - Virus Definition Subscription
$100
$0
Year 1 - IT Labor for security/virus checks
$2,000
$0
Total Year 1
$8,600
$5,000
 
Year 2 - Hardware Purchase
$0
$0
Year 2 - OS License
$0
$0
Year 2 - IT Labor Maintenance
$2,000
$1,000
Year 2 - Virus Definition Subscription
$100
$0
Year 2 - IT Labor for security/virus checks
$2,000
$0
Total Year 2
$4,100
$1,000
     
Year 3 - Hardware Purchase
$3,000
$0
Year 3 - OS License
$1,500
$0
Year 3 - IT Labor Setup
$2,000
$1,000
Year 3 - Virus Definition Subscription
$100
$0
Year 3 - IT Labor for security/virus checks
$2,000
$0
Total Year 3
$8,600
$1,000
 
Year 4 - Hardware Purchase
$0
$0
Year 4 - OS License
$0
$0
Year 4 - IT Labor Maintenance
$2,000
$1,000
Year 4 - Virus Definition Subscription
$100
$0
Year 4 - IT Labor for security/virus checks
$2,000
$0
Total Year 4
$4,100
$1,000
 
Grand Total
$25,400
$8,000

* This information is provided as a guide only. Your needs, hardware sizings, IT labor costs, etc. may vary based on specific business requirements, but in general terms this comparison is typically true when comparing the single server cost of IT over a 4 year period. This doesn't represent expected costs for IT support for a small business entirely - just a portion devoted to a single server.

There are a few assumptions in the guide, but this is based on real-life experience in installing over 100 servers in small business:

Linux
Hardware needs to be replaced every 2 years with Windows due to OS version changes, and heavy resource loads that Windows places on server hardware equipment (ie. memory, CPU, etc.)
Linux
New hardware installation is more labor intensive with IT labor costs
Linux
There is no cost of Operating System (OS) Licenses with Linux. Prices stated are 'typical' Windows Server 2008 license costs
Linux
The ongoing costs of labor to police servers for virus infections, Windows updates, security patches, etc. with Windows represents about 3 hours per month, per server with Windows. There is no time required to do this with Linux.


So from a fiscal perspective, the typical cost of ownership of a SINGLE Windows Server over a four (4) year period is about three (3) times the cost of ownership of a SINGLE Linux server.

This doesn't also take into account the exposure to security vulnerabilities, decreased performance and vendor 'lock-in' of what can be done on the platforms. Additionally the software you install on that server to run applications, etc. typically inherits the pricing model of the operating system vendor. Therefore a Windows OS which costs $x means that there is 'license' given to the software vendors of products you run on that server to follow suit in terms of their pricing. Linux software vendors typically don't charge for their software licenses at all (e.g. MS SQL Server is priced and licensed separately on Windows servers, whereas Linux databases such as Firebird SQL, PostgreSQL and to a lesser degree MySQL, follow a GNU-GPL style licensing model, which is typically free of costs for the end user).

So multiply this comparison across all of your servers and you'll see where the costs are going. You can be saving tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, by considering a migration to Linux. There's never been a better time to do it either.


OK, so if you (the business owner) has read this far, we know your IT staff who have been selling you a bill of goods around Windows for years, probably want to shut us up. I mean if you are reading this, you are now empowered with a contrary position to what you might have been told for years. But its only fair for you to know that there are FAR LESS EXPENSIVE, more secure and more powerful options you could have been using for years. If you haven't been made aware of this by your IT personnel, then we'd suggest you haven't been given the full story. In the words of Governor Jesse Ventura, on his show 'Conspiracy Theory', "If you think you know the truth, think again.".


 

If you would like to talk to someone at Tech Solutions about converting your small business IT infrastructure over to Linux, no problem. Just CONTACT US and we'd be happy to discuss this with you for no charge.