How To Use Linux To Help Customers Go to Market Faster

Creating, building and distributing software applications is a complicated and labor-intensive proposition. Because time is money, IT solution providers and ISVs can simplify the process. SUSE’s senior marketing manager explains how Linux can be a critical part of your customer's go-to-market strategy.—Jennifer Bosavage, editor

Let’s face it: As ISVs, you have a lot on your plates. Your company’s customer satisfaction depends on your ability to deliver your applications quickly and with high degrees of performance and reliability. But you’re constantly fighting a battle to achieve these goals because the process of bringing software to market is difficult.

The process starts at the application design and continues right through code writing and bug fixes. Once the software is built and tested, there’s also the whole matter of how to package and distribute the applications to make deployment and use by your customers as easy and trouble-free as possible.(See 25 Infrastructure Software Vendors You Need To Know.)

In the past, you’ve distributed the applications via download, CDs, DVDs, flash drives or other media and left it up to the customers to install, configure and get running. That has drawbacks, however, including the need for costly technical support if things didn’t go the way they were expected to go as the computing systems chugged away to install and set up the applications.

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There is a way to streamline this application distribution process while simplifying installation for your customers. ISVs can send out newfangled software applications in a pre-configured, pre-tested, pre-assembled form via download or on a compact device. ISVs can present these applications pre-packaged, so all customers need to do is literally click on an icon and watch it happen before their eyes.

ISVs can do this by creating “software appliances” – essentially putting your applications on a Linux operating system tailored for your applications, setting them up just right, and sending them in any form from a download to a DVD, flash drive or any other media. By following just a few simple steps, ISVs can create software appliances that deliver these kinds of results to their customers. These software appliances – which are able to run on virtualized servers, in the cloud, or bare metal – are made possible because software appliances work best when built on open source. Linux is uniquely suited for software appliances because of its flexibility and broad technical features which allow a myriad of workloads to be built and run on multiple platforms. Linux is also well-suited technically and commercially for powering diverse IT environments with no limits to what your customers are running in their businesses and IT shops.

All of this innovation is available today with the use of free appliance-building tools. Developers can leverage the power of open source to quickly configure and build applications into software appliances that can help ISVs get software into the hands of customers faster and in less sales time with minimal if any technical support.

Many of these tools have easy-to-use web-based user interfaces that run on standard web browsers, allowing you to pick and choose from menus with a wide range of open source components to build your appliances. There are even “testdrive” functions that allow you to test your newly built appliances to be sure they work in the ways you intend them to work before distribution. You can boot, configure and test your appliance in a browser window without having to download and run it.

It’s the power of open source that makes this all possible. It’s not about code writing. It’s about building the recipe from the pieces of code that are already there and optimizing them in a very user-friendly way that doesn’t require the knowledge of a kernel hacker or an advanced administrator to build.

Because the modularity of Linux is the key ingredient in the process, you can build your software appliances without worrying about licensing restrictions. You can strip down the operating system to the minimum features that you need to keep your application smaller, simpler and more efficient, or you can add to it as needed. You can even build it in a way that maintains full supportability by the Linux vendor.

In the end, using software appliance tools and open source code, you can build your software appliances with exactly the features that your customers require. You can mix and match from a wealth of open source components already available or you can bring in whatever you need.

That’s not something you can do easily with proprietary software. Another benefit of using open source for software appliances is that you can leverage the immense power and knowledge of the worldwide open source community. That’s one of biggest strengths of open source – the community of developers, users and experts who are constantly improving the breed. Open source software development cycles are more transparent than proprietary software, meaning that there are more eyeballs fixing bugs, as well as always improving security and delivering innovation faster. That means that others are always out there helping you make your code better.

One enthusiastic appliance developer is the San Francisco-based ISV, GroundWork Open Source, which has been using Linux to build pre-configured virtual appliances containing its open source infrastructure monitoring applications for their customers.

As an open source ISV, GroundWork is always looking for business advantages over proprietary competitors including IBM, HP, BMC and others, said David Dennis, the senior director of marketing and business development for GroundWork. By creating a package that includes their infrastructure management application in a pre-configured virtualized appliance, customers can have it running in just a few minutes.

Instead of having to set up a physical server, install a Linux operating system on it, and then install and configure GroundWork’s application, the pre-configured virtual appliance has done all the heavy lifting.

And for GroundWork, that ease of deployment adds up to a better experience and fewer tech support calls for their customers. “Because they don’t have to go through the installation, it’s actually easier for us to support,” Dennis said. “We’ve eliminated a whole number of variables. If our customers install the application from scratch, that can make support more complex if there are set-up issues. With a virtual appliance, we don’t have to pay attention to all of that. It just installs.”

From its flexibility to its power to its community-based expertise and user footprint, open source is ideal for use in software appliances where speed, performance, reliability and ease of use are mission-critical components of your business strategy.