Survey: Unix has a long and healthy future, say users

Computerworld's 2009 survey on Unix use shows that the OS will be alive and kicking for some time to come.

There's no denying the importance Unix has had to IT over the years. As Unix turns 40 this summer, we at Computerworld wanted to find out whether the operating system will continue to play an important role in IT shops or whether its best days are behind it.

If you're among those who predict the imminent demise of Unix, you might want to reconsider. Computerworld's 2009 Unix survey of IT executives and managers, conducted online in March and April, tells a different story: While demand appears to be down from our 2003 survey on Unix use, the OS is clearly still going strong.

Of the 211 respondents, 130 (62%) reported using Unix in their organizations. (Most survey responses are based on input from the latter.) Of the respondents whose companies use Unix, 69% indicated that their organizations are "extremely reliant" or "very reliant" on Unix, with another 21% portraying their organizations as "somewhat reliant" on Unix. 10% responded that they were not very reliant or not at all reliant on Unix as an OS.

Applications and reliability/scalability (64% and 51%, respectively) take the lion's share as drivers for organizational reliance on Unix, with about one-fourth of the survey base pointing to cost considerations, hardware vendors, ease of application integration/development and interoperability as other drivers. Other reasons for reliance included:

  • Uptime
  • Security, networking, availability of open-source app and systems packages
  • Primary customer is a Unix OEM
  • Less security risks, no virus, more ROI on installed capacity owned
  • Legacy applications with historical data
  • It's not Microsoft
  • It just works
  • Customer preference
  • Bound by application developer

AIX was the most commonly reported flavor of Unix used by the survey base (42%), followed by Solaris/SPARC (39%), HP-UX (25%), Solaris/x86 (22%), Other Unix flavors/versions (19%), Mac OS X Server (12%) and OpenSolaris (10%).

Of the 19% who selected other Unix flavors, most specified some kind of Linux. When asked if they used other Unix-like OSes, 80% said yes and almost all indicated some version of Linux. (So, you might ask, is Linux a flavor of Unix or a Unix-like OS? See "Just what is Unix, anyway?" for thoughts on that question.)

Unix' role in the future

Almost half (47%) see Unix in 5 years as "an essential operating system with continued widespread deployment." One-third of the survey respondents selected the prediction that while not essential in 5 years Unix will still be important in some vertical market sectors. Just 11% selected predictions of migration and 5% envision it fading away.

When asked to select a statement describing their Unix strategy, more than half underlined the importance of Unix by selecting "Unix is an essential platform for us and will remain so indefinitely" (42%) or "We are increasing our use of Unix" (15%). Another 18% described Unix's role as shrinking, but not disappearing. 17% pointed to plans to migrate away from Unix.

Of those who said they were planning on migrating away from Unix, cost was the number one reason, followed by server consolidation, skills shortage and applications.

Survey results

Survey conducted March 31 - April 20, 2009; there were 211 responses.
Numbers may not add up to 100, due to rounding.

Does your organization use Unix?

Yes: 62%
No: 35%
Don't know: 4%

Base: 211 respondents

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