Unix has a long and healthy future, say users

There's no denying the importance Unix has had to IT over the years. As Unix turns 40 this summer, we at Computerworld wanted to find out whether the operating system will continue to play an important role in IT shops or whether its best days are behind it.


If you're among those who predict the imminent demise of Unix, you might want to reconsider. Computerworld's 2009 Unix survey of IT executives and managers, conducted online in March and April, tells a different story: While demand appears to be down from our 2003 survey on Unix use, the OS is clearly still going strong.

Of the 211 respondents, 130 (62 percent) reported using Unix in their organisations. (Most survey responses are based on input from the latter.)

Of the respondents whose companies use Unix, 69 percent indicated that their organisations are "extremely reliant" or "very reliant" on Unix, with another 21 percent portraying their organisations as "somewhat reliant" on Unix. 10 percent responded that they were not very reliant or not at all reliant on Unix as an OS.

Applications and reliability/scalability (64 percent and 51 percent, respectively) take the lion's share as drivers for organisational reliance on Unix, with about one-fourth of the survey base pointing to cost considerations, hardware vendors, ease of application integration/development and interoperability as other drivers. Other reasons for reliance included:

* Uptime
* Security, networking, availability of open-source app and systems packages
* Primary customer is a Unix OEM
* Less security risks, no virus, more ROI on installed capacity owned
* Legacy applications with historical data
* It's not Microsoft
* It just works
* Customer preference
* Bound by application developer

AIX was the most commonly reported flavour of Unix used by the survey base (42 percent), followed by Solaris/SPARC (39 percent), HP-UX (25 percent), Solaris/x86 (22 percent), Other Unix flavours/versions (19 percent), Mac OS X Server (12 percent) and OpenSolaris (10 percent).

Of the 19 percent who selected other Unix flavours, most specified some kind of Linux. When asked if they used other Unix-like OSes, 80 percent said yes and almost all indicated some version of Linux. (So, you might ask, is Linux a flavour of Unix or a Unix-like OS? See "Just what is Unix, anyway?" for thoughts on that question.)

Unix's role in the future

Almost half (47 percent) see Unix in 5 years as "an essential operating system with continued widespread deployment." One-third of the survey respondents selected the prediction that while not essential in 5 years Unix will still be important in some vertical market sectors. Just 11 percent selected predictions of migration and 5 percent envision it fading away.

When asked to select a statement describing their Unix strategy, more than half underlined the importance of Unix by selecting "Unix is an essential platform for us and will remain so indefinitely" (42 percent) or "We are increasing our use of Unix" (15 percent). Another 18 percent described Unix's role as shrinking, but not disappearing. 17 percent pointed to plans to migrate away from Unix.

Of those who said they were planning on migrating away from Unix, cost was the number one reason, followed by server consolidation, skills shortage and applications.

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