May 29, 2001

NT vs. Linux: the headless debate

Author: JT Smith

Chris Brandstrom writes: "In the long-running debate of NT versus Linux, one of the main arguments that the NT camp have used against Linux is that it is trailing in data-center features. They argue that it does not contain the features required for a production server in a data-center environment. Yet, NT lacks a major feature of Linux which makes it perfect for data-center environments: headless operation, the ability to run the computer without a monitor, keyboard, and mouse attached."
Why Headless?
The advantages of headless operation are many and significant. There is the obvious hardware cost savings because you don't need a monitor, keyboard, and mouse for each computer. This in turn saves space, often an expensive commodity in a data-center. The traditional workaround for these issues has been to use KVM switches to connect a single monitor, keyboard, and mouse to several computers. But this approach has drawbacks. For one thing, each rack of computers requires many cables, as many as 210 cables for a full rack. All the cables and KVM switches in a large data center, and the space they take up, can represent a significant financial cost. An even bigger problem can be the complexity this adds to your system of servers. An administrator can find himself digging through hundreds of cables looking for a loose connection. Of course, you want to decrease the number of issues that might a rise with a server system, not increase them.

That is where Linux's headless operation capabilities can help. If your Linux server hardware supports headless operation, the only connections it will require are a network connection and a power connection. Compare this to the costs and complications caused by the bloated cable requirements of an NT server and you have one more reason to switch to Linux. In addition, companies like Rauch Medien ( have taken this idea to new levels with graphical web browser-based administration. This allows you to log on to a server from your web-browser and use a graphical menu to adjust server settings and manage user accounts and services. This approach makes Linux server administration much simpler. It also allows for remote administration, an incredibly useful ability not possible with KVM switches.

In the area of data center support, headless operation is one major feature where Linux is superior to NT. Even Redmond is recognizing the benefits of headless operation, and is now planning to support it in their next OS release (See: Whistler will offer headless option). However, it should be at least a year and a half from now before it truly is supported. And even then it will not be a full implementation such as Linux already enjoys. Of course, while NT is busy trying to catch up, Linux will have progressed even further. A year and a half is a very long time in the world of Open Source."


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