Software licensing is one of the biggest expenses of high-end server systems. The vendors charge you not only to use the software, but they charge you for how efficiently you want to use the software as well. IBM, for example, charges a different license fee for AIX determined by how many cpus are in the system. So, to scale in response to load, weather its up or out, you have to pay for additional hardware, and then you have to pay for the ability to use that hardware. We are not talking small numbers here either, we are talking in the upwards of six figures 1, in addition to the cost of the hardware. In addition to that, if you are using proprietary applications on top of the OS, you are going to have to pay additional licensing fees for those as well. WebSphere in particular charges on a per cpu basis.
This is where open source solutions really shine. Companies are already going to pay for the superior performance of the hardware. Now with Linux and other open source solutions available to run on the software, and vendors like RedHat supporting them, companies have a whole new world of capability available to them. In a rather strange turn of events, IBM is even supporting Linux on it’s power architecture. The ability to break the chains of restrictive and unnecessary software licensing is well worth the (supposed) trade off in features. Being able to leave the software licensing and keep the hardware is worth its weight in gold. You still need to pay for the software, in a more roundabout way, and, in the end, a much more profitable way.
When a company chooses not to pay software licensing and instead to choose open source software for its needs, what it is choosing is to invest in itself instead of investing in another company. So, instead of paying for support from IBM or HP, a company can pay its employees to train and increase their knowledge, therefore increasing the capability of the company. When you pay an external source to be the technical knowledge base, you are limited to what they are willing to give you. When you invest in yourself, you are limited by your imagination.
For many older companies, ones that have been in the tech sector for the past thirty years or so, the idea of being self-supported is incredibly frightening. They have been used to simply purchasing the software and hardware from a vendor and going back to the vendor when something doesn’t work. For these companies, migrating to a self-supported open source infrastructure would take more than training, it would take a change in corporate culture. This will come easier as the newer companies that are proving the capability of open source become successful. If the culture is unable to change, there is a very good chance that the old companies will be left behind by more agile systems that can respond to the ever increasing rate of change in IT.