Thou dost protesteth too much, methinks …

I read an amusing article linked to by the fine folks over at slashdot. In the Infoworld article that slashdot points to the title sets the tone. It is entitled “Linux will get buried”. I am going to look at this from an HPC viewpoint.

Apple is, and will remain for the forseeable future, a hardware company. All the software that it does, it does for no other reason than to sell hardware. OSX is a necessary “evil” for Apple, lest they really directly compete with Dell, IBM, HP, … . This is not to say OSX is evil, don’t read it like that. What is being articulated is that OSX is absolutely necessary for Apple to be able to sell its hardware, and carve out its small niche.

And I want to stress that it is a small niche. IDC is not seeing a troika of systems. It is seeing a rapidly growing pair, with one outpacing the other in terms of growth. And MacOSX presenting great growth numbers. Thats the thing about small markets, great growth numbers are quite possible/reasonable. MacOSX saw 16% CAGR to 4.8% overall market share for its line of machines. This is good. 5% of the market is nothing to sneeze at.

On the other hand, IDC’s predicted growth rate for Linux puts it at 7% in 2008. Even if Mac could sustain its 16% CAGR, it would still be behind Linux in terms of installed base in 2008.

If that weren’t bad enough news for the /. linked article’s thesis, another IDC quarterly study came out and is summarized here. You will notice that there is no Apple to be found in these numbers. Further some baseline data:

  • The fastest growing segment is the volume server segment growing at about 6.2% per year
  • quote: Linux server shipments grew 9.7% with the volume server segment representing the majority of both revenue and units.

There are a few other nuggets in there, and it is worth reading. The take home message is that a) small servers are growing fastest, and b) linux on the small servers appears to be growing faster than the other choices.

Ok, now the HPC context. There are as far as we know, a few MacOSX clusters. One or two large ones, several mid size, and multitudes of personal clusters. The big players, who are heavily invested in Linux and have their own hardware to sell, e.g. IBM, HP, Sun, Cray, Linux Networx, Penguin, Appro, … etc are not about to give up all their hardware revenue to Apple. It is at best, wishful thinking, to believe that the world of servers will be running MacOSX and windows, when the data show clearly shows the direction the world appears to be heading.

Remember, Apple is a hardware shop. They have not, nor will they likely ever open up OSX to run on anything but their hardware. Which is likely to be the reason why they have never broken out of their niche. And is the reason that they may never break out.

Dell makes lots of money selling servers preloaded with windows and linux. How much money can they make with OSX? Zero. And thats why it won’t dominate. There is no economic incentive for the large players to switch.

Of course, if Apple does something bright like make OSX runnable on non-Mac hardware, well, that may be a different story. I want to run my machines and clusters with an AMD64/x64/x86_64 ABI and set of chips. I can’t put OSX on my non-Mac laptop, or non-Mac servers. Which means that there is no way I can run OSX.

Don’t tell Microsoft this, but part of the reason for the success of Linux in the HPC arena is the element of choice, freedom, and open-ness. Vendor lockins are considered to be avoided if at all possible, at least, this is what our customers tell us. MacOSX is a hard vendor lockin, as is windows. The former is hardware and software, and the latter is software.

Then again there is the issue of commercial software availability as well. I don’t see the major players adding yet another incompatible platform when they have been working so hard to reduce the number to two.

All told, I think that article is an exercise in wishful thinking more than anything else. 5% is a good market share, and I would be surprised to see it more than 10% by the end of the decade. Unless Apple does something radical. Linux on the other hand, does appear to be gaining very rapidly on all fronts. Within HPC it already is dominant.

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