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Microsoft Windows vs. Linux for online backup servers

/Microsoft Windows vs. Linux for online backup servers
Microsoft Windows vs. Linux for online backup servers 2017-03-16T20:25:39+00:00

After seven years of running both Windows and Linux servers for our online backup service we’ve learned a lot about the advantages and challenges of each platform.  Here are some of my personal observations:

Human resources

  • It’s much easier to hire Windows administrators then Linux administrators as there are seems to be many more tech’s with Windows experience.
  • Those with a BSc degree in computing or engineering seem to have no problem with understanding, configuring and managing Linux servers.
  • We’ve found that Linux administrators typically have a superior understanding of the nuances of supporting services requiring high load, many users, and high availability.
  • The learning curve for administering Linux servers appears to harder then Windows, which at first blush seems to weigh in Window’s favor, but in our experience we find those who have cut their teeth in the Linux realm actually have better problem solving skills and are able to master, at a deep level, new technologies much faster.
  • Similarly, we believe there are fewer surprises when hiring a Linux administrator, vs. a Windows administrator.  Because of Windows apparent ease of use (we’ll cover this later), it’s much harder to tell what a Windows tech actually understands (are they just following recipes or do they really understand).

Reliability

  • We hardly ever see Linux machines crash or need to be rebooted, whereas, in high demanding environments (running one of our competitors legacy online backup server software), we’ve had to reboot Windows servers every two to three weeks.  Our Linux server uptime for our backup and storage devices was literally years and for Windows it was weeks to a few months.
  • Backwards compatibility, migrations, and upgrades of software applications on Linux has hardly ever been a consideration for us, where as, each new version of the Windows operating system has involved significant retooling, upgrading, testing, and migrating for us.  Take for example Microsoft’s dropping support or ntbackup.exe, where their replacement requires an entire volume to be backed up rather than an application (such as Exchange or System State).
  • Linux’s network file system and disk usage support clobbers Windows from our experience both in terms of reliability and performance.  We never experience “delayed write failures” with Linux whereas we constantly struggled with it on Windows 2003.
  • Window’s built in load balancing never worked right for us, so high-availability online backup with Windows servers was an extreme and costly challenge.  We’ve found that setting up load balancing and fail over on Linux to be a breeze (and cheap) in comparison.

Security

  • Both Windows and Linux are continually making improvements in the realm of security.
  • In general, and we don’t see any significant advantage to either operating system in this regard.
  • However, regulatory compliance is easier to verify in an open source environment, such as Linux, as one can see all the code that is run down to the device drivers (and often into them).
  • We believe that adhering to difficult security challenges is easier on Linux then Windows, such as PCI compliance to protect credit card data, where not only controlled access to data must be maintained, but also controlled disposal of data (such as military wipes of files and blocks of data).

Ease of Use

  • Most would generally agree that Windows is easier to use and configure.
  • For server environments requiring scripting and reporting, we find Linux servers to be much easier.  Although Microsoft has made some strides in this area with its “Windows Services for Unix” and its new “Windows PowerShell”, what we’ve found is that most applications do not support these tools and in fact much of the Windows operating system was not architected to support it, so what you can script/program is more limited in Windows.

Support

  • Microsoft stands ready to assist end users with difficult problems and it does an excellent job at documenting fixes.
  • With Linux you have access to the actual developers of the operating system and applications so the Linux community, from our experience, is actually more helpful with resolving difficult problems.
    • As an example we’ve had a question into Microsoft for some time, one of the key SDKs doesn’t answer the question and there is no provided example or sample code so answering the question requires access to someone (a developer?) with deep knowledge.  For Linux, if there’s not a rapid answer from the community, we just go into the source code and figure it out for ourselves.

Cost

  • The cost of Linux servers is the hardware itself.  The cost of Windows servers has trended towards more than twice the comparable cost of Linux when the operating system, multi-use licenses, and Microsoft SQL server licensing is factored in.
  • In the Cloud, Windows servers are 2X or more the cost of Linux servers with same hardware – see Amazon.com’s EC2 pricing for example.

With the migration of all of our online backup clients to our WholesaleBackup solution and off our legacy backup system, which we licensed from a competitor, we’re experiencing fewer problems, utilizing less hardware, and saving money!

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