Is Ubuntu ready to run your business servers?

Despite its desktop-oriented reputation, Ubuntu is making serious inroads as a business server that can compete with Red Hat

By all accounts, Red Hat is the undisputed leader in enterprise Linux, but Ubuntu is proving its up to the challenge. Is it time to evaluate Ubuntu in your enterprise?

Like many of you, I haven't given the Linux market too much thought beyond Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) being the leaders and Novell Suse running a distant second. Last May, while reading the Eclipse Survey 2009 results (see the chart below), I came across two very interesting pieces of data about Linux adoption that made me reconsider this point of view.

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I was very surprised to find that nearly 15 percent of Eclipse developers responding to the survey were using Ubuntu on their development machines. I rationalized the lack of Fedora/RHEL or OpenSuse/Suse usage versus Ubuntu as a proof point of Ubuntu's user experience investments. But then I realized that Ubuntu performed equally well on deployment server market share among respondents. Granted, Fedora/RHEL led Linux deployments, but only by a single percentage point versus Ubuntu. And yet, from a revenue and unit shipment standpoint, IDC estimates Red Hat's market share of Linux at more than 60 percent.

The surprising truth about Ubuntu adoption
Since May 2009, I've been keeping my eye out for data that supports Ubuntu's growth in the enterprise. Earlier this week I learned that Weta Digital, the digital effects studio behind movies such as "Avatar," "District 9," "Jumper," and "Lord of the Rings," is using Ubuntu on a large scale. Dustin Kirkland, an Ubuntu Server core developer for Canonical, wrote the following about Paul Gunn's 2010 talk:

It was a great talk, about the type of data center needed to render special effects in today's blockbuster movies. They have a 2-petabyte disk array, 10Gbps networking, and 35,000 cores (4,000-plus HP blades) in their data center, and still it takes 48 hours to render some of their graphic sequences.

According to Paul, Ubuntu is at the core of all of this, running on all of the rendering nodes, and 90 percent of the desktops at Weta Digital. He notes that his farm (he calls it a "render wall") is in fact an Ubuntu Server farm, and not RHEL as he has seen reported in the media.

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