UNIX vs. Windows

Filed under:Network Support    

-An objective guide to making a decision that fits your firm

Deciding on using UNIX or windows should be a strategic decision for any firm who has at least one IT employee.  It determines if you hire someone with UNIX administration skills or windows administration skills.  While exceptions can be made it is best to try and stick to one or the other as much as possible unless your firm really is large enough to employ (and want to employ) both windows and UNIX administrators.  You should also select the flavor of UNIX as a standard and only change as a strategic decision.  (It is easier to support and maintain just one.)  The decision should be made based on what is best for the business not a personal preference.  There are pros and cons of both operating systems.

The number one reason that people select Windows over UNIX is that they know nothing about UNIX and cannot support or maintain it.  Windows people administer windows boxes and UNIX people administer UNIX boxes.  If you are not familiar with windows servers (even if your familiar with Windows desktops) then it really doesn’t matter.  Unix isn’t as hard as most people think and you probably will have to call an outside contractor either way.  Otherwise don’t even think about running a server your firm cannot support.  Unix (especially Linux) might be cheaper and windows might seem like an easier option.  However if it cannot be maintained the business objectives will not be met and it will cost more than you can imagine.  When it breaks the staff cannot fix it; and routine work suddenly becomes difficult. 

UNIX servers tend to cost quite a bit less in terms of licensing costs and Linux can be legally used without paying anything.  Please note that if your server is being used by a business  you really should take the support, so avoid the free linux download.  In general it is much easier to change vendors if you go with a flavor of UNIX rather than with any Microsoft product.  Microsoft support is in addition to the software and therefore costs extra.  Microsoft has historically advertised that the total cost of ownership is higher for UNIX (including Linux) than windows.  However this has included the cost of converting to UNIX and is based on estimates of third party analysts who are paid by Microsoft and then selected for suitability in there advertising.  The hardware is usually the same for UNIX as it is for windows servers.  You can buy most servers with a preinstalled OS if you prefer.  (Some further configuration and tweaking may still be appropriate.) 

Any IT professional, and most novices, should automate there job as much as possible.  It is much easier to do this on UNIX than it is on Windows.  While windows has the ability to run batch scripts it is very limited and even with powerful scripting languages like perl installed there are not the commands available at a command line prompt to do even the most basic system maintenance tasks like compress a file or reboot the server.  UNIX’s almost absolute use of a command line prompt means that anything you do on a UNIX prompt you can automate just as you do it manually. Most novice UNIX admins are capable of easily automating things but experienced windows admins struggle with it. 

Windows servers are notorious for being vulnerable to worms while there have been basically no worms affecting UNIX in the past ten years.  Any server running windows should really have anti-virus software on it just like a desktop would.  While UNIX servers are unaffected by this they are just as susceptible to malicious and mischievous hackers as windows servers and therefore must still be patched.

While this page isn’t meant to degrade Windows server (it really is a perfectly useful tool) it must also be considered that windows servers are designed and built form a desktop operating system.  If at all possible automate a weekly reboot of the windows server.  If a windows server doesn’t get rebooted it will eventually crash or hang.  Yes UNIX servers have to be rebooted occasionally too, but only a few times a year.  (Some admins take great pride in having never rebooted there server.)  One down fall with this is UNIX servers need manual intervention after a reboot; people sometimes get sloppy and don’t setup the applications to start (or start correctly) after a reboot.  It should also be noted that applications using a database frequently crash or hang if there database connection drops (for example when the database server reboots.)  In general expect UNIX servers to have a much better uptime and reliability.

Another thing to consider is that the Windows vs. UNIX battle is sometimes a semi-religious jihad against Windows, Microsoft or both.  There is no place for this in business.  The decision should be based on rational business oriented criteria.  Having UNIX servers requires either an IT employee that knows UNIX or the consistent use of an outside contractor.  Select an operating system based on your business needs and the impact of the OS.

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