The Linux Advantage in Web Hosting

Web hosting has always been a good place to find Linux servers — often coupled with other popular open source software such as Apache Web servers — butSpin Magazine’s recent move toRackspace Managed Hosting illustrates the upsurge in choices for Linux hosting support, which is at the heart of the deal between the music magazine and hosting heavyweight.

Linux is typically a good match for Web hosting servers and applications because of its stability, the savings in running multiple servers without licensing costs, and the flexibility to customize code and applications for specific site or infrastructure needs.

One of the downsides of Linux historically has been its novelty and smaller supporting ecosystem. Now, though, companies are finding that most major hosting providers offer full Linux support, and the options for open source hosting have grown, Spin IT Manager Josh Glaser told LinuxInsider.

“We certainly had more of a choice,” he said, indicating that a few years ago, Linux hosting would have required some in-house expertise. “It speaks to the maturity of [Linux hosting] and the fact it’s being accepted. It may not be mainstream, but it’s getting there.”

Stability With Savings

Spin’s site, which attracts more than a quarter of a million unique visitors per month, was already based on Linux servers and open source software, but the company wanted to continue the stability and cost-savings advantages of the non-Windows hosting system.

“Those are the two major reasons,” Glaser said, adding that Spin also uses the open source content management system (CMS)Bricolage in its site hosting, which lends itself to Linux servers.

There are other advantages over Windows-based hosting — which, while still a popular choice, can be difficult to administer and keep up to date, according to Glaser.

“With Linux, you have a lot more freedom in terms of what you can accomplish — even if the resources are not available,” he said, referring to the ability to make software tweaks or improvements with open source development.

Growing Bigger

About half the servers used to support Rackspace’s 10,000 worldwide customers are running Linux, Rackspace Vice President of Research and Development Paul Froutan told LinuxInsider.

“We’re very close to 50-50 [with Linux and Windows],” he said.

Froutan explained that adoption of Linux servers is actually growing faster among larger corporations, which are shedding older Unix-based server configurations.

“There’s more penetration of Linux into large enterprise customers,” he said. “Linux is gobbling up all of the old Unix business. That’s typically where we see it in hosting.”

Red Phone for Red Hat

While companies may be drawn to the stability, savings, flexibility and other advantages of Linux in a Web hosting setting, they are still committing to a platform and road map that is far less defined when they choose Linux, according to Froutan.

“Having a company or person to fall back on becomes much more important,” he said.

Indicating that application and legacy infrastructure typically determines whether a company will choose Linux or Windows hosting, Froutan added that his company’s job is to get fixes and solutions faster from open source software providers such as Red Hat.

“You can’t call Red Hat, but you can call us,” he said. “When we call Red Hat, we get an answer. That happens a lot where we are the conduit between the customer and the the vendor.”

Mixing in a Bigger Market

In a U.S. Web hosting services market worth about US$7 billion last year, and projected to reach $14.5 billion by 2010, according to IDC, Linux figures prominently in the space, particularly in light of the trends toward server virtualization — the running of multiple instances of operating systems and applications — and consolidation.

There is an increase in the number of mixed environments used for Web hosting, Froutan noted, but customers still tend to stay with one platform or the other — Linux or Windows.

That growth in mixed environments is taking place because customers who started out with Rackspace now have more options, he said. They can easily try out Linux or maintain a Windows server in a Linux environment.

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