By all accounts Red Hat is the undisputed leader in enterprise Linux, but Ubuntu is proving its up to the challenge.  Is it time to evaluate Ubuntu in your enterprise?

Like many of you, I haven’t given the Linux market too much thought beyond Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) being the leaders and Novell SUSE being a distant second.  Last May, while reading the Eclipse Survey 2009 results I came across two very interesting pieces of data about Linux adoption that made me reconsider this point of view.

I was very surprised to find that nearly 15 percent of Eclipse developers responding to the survey were using Ubuntu on their development machines.  I rationalized the lack of Fedora/RHEL or OpenSUSE/SUSE usage versus Ubuntu as a proof point of Ubuntu’s user experience investments.  But then I realized that Ubuntu performed equally well on deployment server market share amongst respondents.  Granted, Fedora/RHEL led Linux deployments, but only by a percentage point versus Ubuntu. And yet, from a revenue and unit shipment standpoint, IDC estimates Red Hat’s market share of Linux at over 60 percent.

Since May 2009, I’ve been keeping my eye out for data that supports Ubuntu’s growth in the enterprise.  Earlier this week I learned that Weta Digital, the digital effects studio behind movies such as AVATAR, District9, Jumper and Lord of the Rings, is using Ubuntu on a large scale.  Dustin Kirkland, an Ubuntu Server core developer for Canonical wrote about Paul Gunn’s Linux.conf.au 2010 talk:

“It was a great talk, about the type of data center needed to render special effects in today’s blockbuster movies. They have a 2 Petabyte disk array, 10gbps networking, and 35,000 cores (4,000+ HP blades) in their data center, and still it takes 48 hours to render some of their graphic sequences.

According to Paul, Ubuntu is at the core of all of this, running on all of the rendering nodes, and 90% of the desktops at Weta Digital. He notes that his farm (he calls it a “render wall”) is in fact an Ubuntu Server farm, and not RHEL as he has seen reported in the media.”

Weta’s data center is pretty amazing, especially in terms of its green data center practices.  The work running on Ubuntu at Weta Digital could easily be considered enterprise grade:

“…more than 10,000 jobs and an estimated 1.3 to 1.4 million tasks per day. Each frame of the 24 frame-per-second movie saw multiple iterations of back and forth between directors and artists and took multiple hours to render.”

Canonical’s strategy is to grow Ubuntu on client desktops, an area where Red Hat has left untapped.  However, as the Eclipse survey and Weta Digital’s usage underscores, Ubuntu shouldn’t be ignored as a server operating system.

While considering Ubuntu in your enterprise, particularly as a server operating system, enterprise application support on Ubuntu will be a key concern.  Red Hat definitely enjoys a much larger ISV ecosystem than Ubuntu does today, meaning that enterprise applications are more likely to be tested and certified on RHEL than Ubuntu.  However, with Ubuntu’s growth and the uncertainty around Novell SUSE, enterprise ISVs won’t be able to delay Ubuntu certification for long.

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PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”