The 451 Group has issued a report that shows that companies are beginning to pick up something serious Linux users have known since day one: You don't have to buy Linux to use it.
Oh make no mistake about it, if you don't have experienced Linux administrators on staff, trying to run your business on Linux while picking up how to run it is just plain stupid. But, if you or your staff already knows Linux, it's another story entirely.
The 451 Group found that free community Linux distributions can be viable alternatives for major corporations. As Jay Lyman, a 451 Group analyst wrote, "Community distributions such as CentOS, Debian, and Gentoo are gaining enterprise respect for quality code, stability, response and, of course, for being 'free as in beer' and 'free as in freedom.' These community distributions are becoming a more significant market factor with growing enterprise acceptance and use of them."
What's driving this, Lyman points out, is not just the free Linux price-tag, but the simple fact that it's much easier for companies to find IT staff who already know Linux. Experienced Linux managers may not be as common as Windows system operators but they're not rare either.
Several popular free distributions, such as CentOS, are based on commercial Linux systems. In CentOS' case, if you know Red Hat Linux, you're good to go with CentOS since it's based directly on Red Hat's source code.
In other cases, the commercial Linux distributors themselves promote community Linux distributions that can be used for business. Novell, for instance, produces openSUSE and Red Hat stands behind Fedora. Some of these, like Fedora, are a little too bleeding-edge for me to be comfortable recommending you use them in business. On the other hand, I'd have no hesitation about deploying, say, openSUSE in a Linux-savvy business.
In my own small office -- four servers and twenty workstations -- I run everything on community Linux distributions. Specifically, I use Fedora, openSUSE, Ubuntu and MEPIS. Fedora? Yes, I'll run Fedora for production work because I know Linux backwards and forwards. If you also have a Linux maven in your office, you can try it too.
Is this path for everyone? Of course not. But, if you need to cut IT costs and your people already know Linux, it's a pathway that's well worth exploring.