It used to be a clear sign of geekiness. People who were into Linux would rave about its benefits and flexibility… as long as you knew how to install your own OS, dig around for the hardware drivers you needed, and be a master of command-line instructions. For a world building technical literacy through more user-friendly front-end systems, Linux was a niche reserved for technology enthusiasts.
The world has changed, though, and Linux is growing out of its pigeonhole to become a powerful force in today’s digital climate. Maturity in technical savviness and improvements in Linux distros have closed the historical gap, but beyond that there are some specific drivers making Linux a bigger deal than it was before. Here are five reasons that Linux is on the rise and Linux skills are in high demand:
1. The Linux Footprint Is Growing
The traditional Linux stereotype existed primarily as awareness about computing was growing through PC adoption. In the server room, Linux has always been a strong candidate, and its reach there is spreading. System administrators are using Linux for things like Web servers or virtual appliances as their businesses undergo digital transformation. Canonical’s Ubuntu is a popular distro, as is the community-owned Debian on which Ubuntu is based. Other common distros include Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.
Linux is showing up more on the front end too, primarily thanks to Android. Mobile devices are not replacing PCs in most cases, but they have definitely become additional tools for many employees. For some workers, mobile devices add computing capability where none existed before. Linux-based Android accounts for approximately 80 percent of the smartphone market, and while much of this is due to low-end options, the high-end devices are on par with iOS in enterprise usage, driving support demands.
2. Cloud Computing
Moving systems and applications into the cloud doesn’t reduce the need for Linux skills. While many cloud providers offer platforms of some sort that abstract the OS further away from the end-user, this type of offering is far less popular than procuring virtual instances and building on top of those. Market research aggregator Statista shows that global IaaS revenue in the first half of 2015 reached $11.6 billion, while PaaS revenue only totaled $1.2 billion. Cloud removes the need for physical equipment, but most companies are still starting at the infrastructure level, requiring an OS.
All the major public cloud providers offer Linux images as a way of expediting virtual instance creation. AWS, Microsoft and Google all prominently display help pages for setting up Linux machines. If a company is going the private cloud route, it will need cloud orchestration software such as OpenStack or CloudStack, and this software often sits on top of a Linux installation.
As companies become more digital, they are finding that the maximum benefit from technology comes as they are able to customize their architecture or build new offerings for customers. These tasks require some amount of software development, and this also drives Linux demand. For one, there is an increase in the amount of infrastructure needed, as dev-test systems must be added to a production environment. This adds to the growing Linux footprint.
On top of that, developers are helping drive Linux in the one area it has always struggled the most – the desktop. A survey of over 50,000 developers conducted by Stack Overflow showed that 21.7 percent preferred to use Linux, usually as part of developing on the LAMP stack. That still places Linux third behind Windows (52.2 percent) and Mac OS X (26.2 percent), but this is still much more balanced than adoption among the general population, and Stack Overflow reports that the Windows preference has been steadily dropping.
4. Internet of Things
One of the defining characteristics of the Internet of Things is miniaturization, and we typically think of this in terms of the hardware. Smaller CPUs, sensors and antennas allow for computation and connectivity to be added to a wide range of physical objects. But there is miniaturization needed in software as well; these lightweight devices can’t run resource-intensive operating systems.
With development skills improving across the board, the barriers for creating IoT software are lower. Linux will likely play a large role here, as open source components can be modified for the function or power demands of new devices. It also helps give a common base that can help drive interoperability. One example of this new software is Zephyr, developed by Linux Foundation to be scalable and run on devices with as little as eight kilobytes of memory.
Maybe your company isn’t adding to its datacenter, or moving workloads to the cloud, or building development capabilities, or exploring the Internet of Things. There’s still a good reason to improve Linux skills. A lot of other companies are doing these things, and that increases the attack-platform for cyber-criminals. As Linux attacks become more prevalent, they will affect everyone.
Linux is sometimes viewed as being more secure, but this reputation is largely based on the same thing that gave Macs their secure reputation – lower adoption. Clearly, that situation is changing. Furthermore, open source software can be a boost for development efforts, but also can create vulnerabilities as code comes from a variety of sources and gets combined in untested ways.
There are many pieces coming together as organizations develop new technology strategies. Linux is not a new innovation, but it is being used more widely. Businesses need to take inventory of their capabilities and invest as needed to close any skill gaps. If Linux is still geeky, then congratulations to the geeks; it’s your time to shine.
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