[This article was contributed by Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier]
What a difference two years makes. D.H. Brown recently released its 2003 Linux Function
Review and finds that Linux has improved dramatically since 2001
though still lagging behind commercial Unix. The executive
summary of the report is available to non-subscribers, though you have
to provide some contact information in exchange.
In the 2001 report, D.H. Brown compared SuSE 7.2, Red Hat 7.1, Caldera
OpenLinux 3.1, TurboLinux Server 6.5 and Debian GNU/Linux 2.2r3 against
commercial Unix. In the 2003 review, the race is pared down to three
Linux contenders: Red Hat Advanced Server 2.1 (RHAS), SuSE Linux
Enterprise Server 8 (SLES) and Debian GNU/Linux 3.0.
The D.H. Brown Function Review is based on "functional capabilities as
of January 1, 2003" in five areas: Scalability; reliability,
availability and serviceability (RAS); system management; Internet and
Web application services; and directory and security services. Note that
the report looks at Linux only as an enterprise system, not in terms of
According to the report, there are 167 items total that have been
reviewed by D.H. Brown the same criteria used by the company to
analyze Unix systems. These are rated according to what is offered by
each vendor, so add-on packages from third parties don't count. This
puts Linux at a slight disadvantage when rating results, since some
technologies may be available for Linux from vendors like IBM, HP or
SGI, but not provided directly by Red Hat or SuSE.
As with the 2001 report, SuSE comes out ahead of Red Hat, particularly
in terms of systems management. SuSE ranked "Very Good" in systems
management thanks to YaST2 and advanced support for LVM but falls behind
RHAS and Debian because it is not suited for managing multiple systems
from the same interface. Red Hat scores points for enabling multiple
system management with its Red Hat Network. In all categories SuSE
either tied with or surpassed RHAS, with Debian taking third place or
tying for second place with RHAS.
Linux fared poorly in the review in the RAS category, with all three
distributions scoring below "Unix minimum" with a rating of "OK" --
Debian GNU/Linux was significantly behind SLES and RHAS, which were
tied. In particular, Linux was dinged for not having the same kind of
failure recovery features available with high-end RISC Unix systems. For
example, none of the distributions reviewed included processor failure
recovery or software-based support for advanced memory redundancy.
Linux really excels in terms of support for networking protocols, even
pulling ahead of some commercial Unix systems. It's interesting to note
that a careful reading of the report shows Linux to be handily matching
or pulling ahead of SCO UnixWare in many areas. SLES even pulls ahead of
the strongest Unix vendor in terms of protocol support, though it's
unclear how relevant some of the protocols are to real-world use. For
example, both Debian and SuSE have support for IPSec over IPv6,
something which isn't exactly in widespread usage.
Another thing that is interesting to note is that Linux is shooting for
a moving target in trying to catch up with commercial Unix. If
commercial Unix systems had not evolved significantly between 2001 and
2003, Linux would have caught up or surpassed most commercial systems in
D.H. Brown's ratings. The report gives bar graphs showing the 2001 in
grey and the 2003 score in green. In almost every case, Linux is scoring
ahead of the top Unix score from 2001. One also wonders whether
commercial Unix distributions would have advanced so quickly in two
years without Linux nipping at its heels.
It's disappointing that D.H. Brown did not compare Linux to
Windows Server 2003, particularly since they recently released a report
that looks at the advancements made with Windows 2003 Server: Windows Server
Platform Reaches Maturity. In that report, Windows 2003 server is
mostly examined only in the context of previous Microsoft offerings.
In all, the report does a good job pointing out some of the areas where
Linux could still use improvement or benefit from additional features
while noting that Linux has come a long way in a short time. It seems,
at least to this Linux user, as a fair evaluation of Linux's place in
the enterprise market. In fact, the report could serve as a useful
roadmap for SuSE and Red Hat when planning new features and improvments
to their enterprise offerings. It will be interesting to see how well
Linux fares in two years.
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