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As Unix fades away from data centers, it's unclear what's next

Patrick Thibodeau | Dec. 13, 2013
Linux is gaining ground today, but a cloud OS or some other new technology may become more important in time

LAS VEGAS - Gartner says that its clients have started planning to migrate from Unix.

For some of them, it may take two or three years, and for others, five years. A few may still be running Unix 10 years from now, but nonetheless, Gartner believes the operating system is on a path to insignificance.

But predicting the end of something means having to show some insight into the future -- and identifying the operating system or other technology that will replace Unix in the data center. It is here that Gartner analysts, and its clients for that matter, struggle.

The obvious replacements to HP-UX, Solaris, AIX and other Unix variants today are Linux, Windows and mainframe operating systems. But that conclusion assumes that the tech world will continue as it is now.

"What constitutes the OS of the future?" asked George Weiss, a Gartner analyst at the firm's Data Center Conference here this week.

The OpenStack cloud computing platform, the Hadoop big data framework, and emerging cloud operating systems are increasingly the direction for data centers building massively scalable, big data cloud environments, he predicts. "Can you see a Unix role in those environments?" he said.

An IT manager at major financial services company, who asked that his name and company not be disclosed, said he doesn't expect his firm to abandon Unix any time soon. The operating system runs many of the company's core mission critical systems.

"A 10-year exit strategy off Unix is probably more realistic," he said. "There is not a huge panic to get off what we're using."

But the IT manager did agree that the entire data center architecture could see a major shift in the coming years. "The whole cloud OS is going to shake everything up," he said.

Unix revenue has clearly been shrinking for more than a decade. According to IDC, worldwide Unix revenue in 2012 was $8.5 billion, or 22.8% less than the year earlier total of $11.1 billion.

In the just reported third quarter of this year, IDC says that Unix server revenue of $1.3 billion was 31% less than the year-earlier total, making the latest period total "the lowest quarterly Unix server revenue ever reported by IDC."

Matt Eastwood, an IDC analyst, said the Unix market is feeling pressure for two primary reasons.

First, data centers continue moving workloads such as business applications, online processing transaction systems, data warehousing and analytics tox86 servers running Linux. "This is primarily being done to lower costs and introduce more standardization into data centers worldwide," he said.

The second driver encouraging a shift from Unix are spending constraints. "Weak economic conditions accelerate the trend towards 'good enough' computing and low cost tends to win out over somewhat more expensive platforms that would have won the business during good economic times," said Eastwood.


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