Linux TCO: Less Than Half The Cost of Windows

The cost of running Linux is roughly 40% that of Microsoft Windows, and only 14% that of Sun Microsystem’s Solaris, according to a new study which examined the actual costs of running various operating systems over three years.

The study, by the Robert Frances Group, in Westport, Conn., looked at production deployments of Web servers running on the three operating systems at 14 Global 2000 enterprises.

Linux cost $74,475 over three years, while a Windows deployment cost $190,662 and one on Solaris $561,520.

Most of the savings with Linux come from software licensing fees. Companies will typically purchase commercial versions of Linux for pilot projects, says Robert Frances Group senior research analyst Chad Robinson, and download free versions off the Web for production deployments.

Only 27% of the Linux servers in the study were provisioned with purchased copies of their respective distributions.

That allows organizations to “significantly lower their software costs, and take advantage of the economies of scale that make Linux a more compelling option,” Robinson says. The larger the deployment, the greater the savings: One of the companies in the study had deployed more than 10,000 Linux nodes.

Linux, along with Solaris, also came out ahead of Windows in terms of administration costs, despite the fact that it’s less expensive to hire Windows system administrators. The average Windows administrator in the study earned $68,500 a year, while Linux sys admins took home $71,400, and those with Solaris skills were paid $85,844. The Windows technicians, however, only managed an average of 10 machines each, while Linux or Solaris admins can generally handle several times that.

There were other costs the study was not able to quantify, according to Robinson, such as security. While study participants were reluctant to provide hard figures on the costs of security breaches, it appears that the “cost for handling security issues on Windows systems was very high,” says Robinson. The study revealed that Windows administrators spent twice as much time patching systems and dealing with other security-related issues than did Solaris or Linux admins.

Of the companies in the study, almost half were in the financial or insurance industries, along with several retailers and educational institutions, and one manufacturing firm. All of the organizations running Linux been running it in production for at least two years; most of them had been using it for three years or longer.