Technological advances mean that Microsoft, Apple and the various vendors of Linux and Unix could offer a wider choice for servers and make coding easier, says Martin Banks.
Despite the religious fervour with which Apple users praise their computers, the company has not been a truly serious rival to Microsoft for many years. Neither is Apple the biggest supplier of Unix systems. Sun, for example, has a marginally higher market capitalisation than Apple. But there is now the fascinating possibility that Apple could challenge Microsoft in servers.
The enterprise server market is in a state of flux. After a few years of relatively low sales and changing technologies, there is no clear leader. Sales of Intel Xeon chips are being threatened by AMD, which beat Intel to the 64bit punch with Opteron processors.
Meanwhile, Intel’s Itanium chips are competing with Risc processors from HP, IBM and Sun. To think that HP and Intel spent all that money developing the Itanium, and now the best it can hope for is to mop up a few defecting customers from Sun and IBM.
And in operating systems, Microsoft has not made much progress in selling servers. Linux is doing well and, perhaps because of scares about just whom SCO might try to sue next for allegedly infringing its copyright code, the prospects for Unix proper are now looking better.
It is here that Apple could play a role. Its OS X implementation of Unix is winning fans and the next edition – version 10.4, due in the first half of next year – is expected to be a real contender in the enterprise arena. What is more, Apple’s G5 hardware platform is already available running dual 64bit PowerPC processors. The rackmounted Xserve version of the hardware comes in at a competitive £2,720 + VAT starting price.
The potential of Linux as a platform for software developers has already been demonstrated IBM and Oracle are leading the charge of major names developing with the system as a primary target platform. But it would be understandable if some firms were now quietly hedging their bets following the decision by SCO to issue or threaten so many Linux-related lawsuits. Until recently they would have done this by either sticking with the big, traditional Unix systems, or opting for Microsoft if they wanted a simpler system.
But new options may be appearing. Sun is planning an open-source version of its Solaris operating system and is promoting the idea of running Solaris on x86 hardware. What is more, the company has just announced that a 64bit version of Solaris is up and running (or rather trotting unsteadily) on AMD’s Opteron processor.Microsoft is expected to launch an Opteron version of Services for Unix (SFU).
By next year, there are likely to be at least a couple of enterpriseready Linux implementations (Red Hat and Novell), and a couple of lower-end proprietary Unixes (Solaris and OS X),Microsoft SFU as well as the existing heavyweight Unix systems (AIX, HP-UX and Solaris). One code base for any application could cover all the enterprise server market from highest to lowest ends, regardless of target hardware platform.