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In the early days of the hosting industry Linux was the dominant operating system. Many hosters then – and even several today – supported the Linux platform exclusively. But with so much computing done on the Windows platform it was pretty much inevitable that Windows-based hosting would emerge. And that is exactly what happened. Today Windows-based servers continue to gather market share and now occupy somewhere around half of the market.
Is supporting Linux exclusively a sustainable strategy? Is it a pathway to growth or a barrier? The answer boils down to simple math. With nearly half of servers running on Windows, not supporting the platform essentially cuts a hoster off from a significant portion of the addressable market. Needless to say, ignoring Windows shrinks overall opportunity and that can have a significant impact on a hoster’s long-term growth prospects.
The math is undeniable. It is the primary reason why hosters should be looking to support both the Windows and Linux platforms. There is going to be just as much chance a new customer will want to host on Linux as Windows. Not supporting one of the platforms would mean turning a customer away. Supporting both means opening the door and welcoming almost any new customer’s site or application. That is a good thing for any hoster – large or small – and increasingly crucial in a tightening competitive landscape.
There are many good technical reasons why customers prefer Linux or Windows and why hosters support one or both platforms.
Perhaps the most important driver behind a choice of operating system is the programming language used to build the website or application that is being hosted. Windows-specific technologies like .NET or Microsoft SQL Server run on Windows, while Linux supports languages such as PHP, Ruby, Perl and Python and applications likes MySQL.
There are other factors that drive customer choice. One of the big ones is price. Many distributions of Linux are open source and freely available. There is no software license fee charged. In contrast, Microsoft charges for use of its intellectual property. Before loading a Windows-based operating system the hoster has to pay a licensing fee, which is an additional cost that is in turn passed on to the end user.
There are a number of other factors in play. Security, access, ease of use, reliability and support are all variables to think about.
But is the decision to run on Windows or Linux really cut and dried? Is one an obvious choice over the other? The answer is no. As the technology has matured, the differences between the two are no longer as pronounced as they once were. Windows has traditionally been known to be less secure and unstable from a performance perspective. But successive iterations have rectified a lot of these shortcomings to the point where the gap is arguably quite negligible. There is also wider technology scope. For example, the Windows operating system now supports programming languages such as PHP. It is no longer mandatory to run on Linux when building with certain technologies.
At the end of the day a case can be made that there really is not that big of a difference between hosting on Windows or Linux. Essentially it has come down to specific capabilities or technologies and even plain personal preference. And this is exactly why hosters need to support both platforms. The business case is overwhelming and the technology differences are minimal or driven by the use case. There is neither edge nor differentiation to be gained by picking one over the other.
The key operational challenge for hosters is how to automate the process of delivering dual platform services and maximize margin and efficiency. For hosters the server control panel has always been that tool. But traditional control panel tools support only a single operating system – whether Windows or Linux – on a single box. Offering hosting services for both Windows and Linux means multiple machines for different customers.
With that kind of infrastructure, what hosters need is a next-generation control panel able to manage multiple operating systems and multiple servers from a single pane of glass. This means automating and consolidating provisioning, procurement, billing and management functions into a single integrated experience – on both the back end and on the customer-facing side. Only with this kind capability can a hoster realize the level of efficiency that will drive margins and free up resources to divert into sales and marketing. Said differently, control panel efficiency and automation is critical to next-stage growth for hosters.