Uncertain Economy Impacts Channel Open Source Efforts

open source

And many VARs recognize the value of the availability of common code for anyone to use, change, improve and redistribute software in a modified or unmodified form as a boon to the IT community.

Yet, when interviewed at the recent Everything Channel XChange conference in Los Angeles, many partners said that they've been hesitant to incorporate open source solutions in their portfolio, while others only provide minimal offerings. And many commercial vendors don't appear overly eager to invest in open source.

James Mabie, territory manager for SMBs at Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., Redwood City, Calif. and Tel Aviv, Israel, said that the company incorporates some open source technologies on the small end, but primarily uses other best-of-breed solutions for its majority enterprise base.

Other vendors say they approach open source from around the edges. "We do what we can," said Chris Franey, vice president of marketing and commercial sales for Samsung. "Most of our products are all hardware-related as opposed to software-related, so we try to make our products as compatible as possible."

Sponsored post

As a result, Samsung tries to collaborate with large-scale software vendors such as Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp., Franey said. The company offers a monitor that works with Microsoft Communicator, designed with open source standards, which comes equipped with a built-in microphone and camera. In addition to the monitor, Samsung introduced a product called UB Sync, which allows an organization to connect its monitors using USB ports. "If you wanted to have multiple monitors running off your laptop, you can daisy chain them together," Franey said.

Dave Dickison, senior vice president of North American channels for McAfee Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., said that while winning in the open source market isn't McAfee's main area of focus, the company has recently announced programs that allow more ISPs to integrate into McAfee's solution set and plug into its management console.

"To the extent that a provider of a vendor or consortium was interested in leveraging an open source solution and integrating it into our EPO solution, we now have a formal program for partnering in those types of areas -- the benefit being access to the thousands and thousands of customers that have used EPO to manage their security infrastructure," Dickison said.

Likewise, Mike Valentine, vice president of American channel sales at Fortinet, said that the Sunnyvale, Calif., company offers hardware platforms that allow open source integration, but doesn't manufacture products specifically targeting the market.

The company also provides detailed blacklists shared on an open forum in the open source community, Valentine said. "We do take a look at, and use, different black lists and things along those lines, but we also import our own type of technology," he said. "They'll say 'watch for this URL,' or 'here's a new hack.' So we're compiling a ton of information." "We try not to take advantage of relying on stuff that's already out there," he added.

One of the reasons for the hesitation to enter the open source market full steam ahead could be directly related to current economic conditions. Alani Kuye, president of Phantom Data Systems, an open source solutions provider based in Norwalk, Conn., said that a large majority of partners have already built their businesses around closed source platforms. And in challenged economic times, many will be unwilling to front the capital needed to branch into new open source solutions --s uch as technology, longer sales cycle and beefed up staff -- with an uncertain return on investment.

"(The open source market) is really not dwindling," Kuye said. "A huge percentage of solution providers built their businesses on commercial platforms. When you have an economy in crisis, they revert to what they know." Israel Lang, director of information systems at NetGain Information Systems Co., based in De Graff, Ohio, said that while open source is an area of interest, the lack of qualified personnel who could resolve specialized problems keeps the company from venturing further in this area. "It's always one of those things where every year, it's on my list of those things that we need to keep our eye on, and keep the pulse on it, and make sure when we're ready, or if it's needed, we're ready to get there," Lang said.

"It's still just a scary proposition for us," he added. "There's not a technical support center. No one we can call to say, 'We've got this line of Linux drivers that aren't loading right, what do I do?' I would have two guys on my team that could possibly resolve those issues, and use the open source community to resolve those issues."

"Two years ago, a lot of VARs were making that investment. Now they're pulling back," Kuye added. "If you didn't build your business on open source, you're going to have a hard time adopting that business model."

However, while numerous commercial partners channel efforts into their core competency, open source partners are reaping the benefits of a market that's far from saturated. "It's the early adopters that are having a good time selling the technologies," said Kuye, adding that "for every Linux developer there are 23 Microsoft developers."

Kuye said that about half the vendors in the security and storage space are open source-driven. Many of the commercial applications are built on Linux and then made Microsoft-compatible. "It's always been a profit maker for us. These guys are busy all day," he said.

Stephen Pao, vice president of product marketing for Barracuda Networks Inc., Campbell, Calif., also maintained that the open source market is still rock-solid. He echoed that numerous manufacturers are shipping servers and low-end PCs with Linux, noting the Apple bundles ClamAV security technologies on its operating systems.

"What's really happening is it's going far more mainstream," Pao said. "In the same context, where we saw people buying machines who wanted Windows preinstalled, you're going to see the same thing with Linux."

Meanwhile, other open source partners have found their own profitable niches in the market. Glenn Hall, president of Jacksonville, Fla.-based PlanNet Technologies Inc., said that his company develops its own open source remote monitoring platform, which they've been using to provide managed services in addition to selling open source VoIP.

Hall said that with open source phone systems, he could give customers the same features and functionality of branded systems but at a much lower price. Customers sign a three-year contract. PlanNet Technologies charges a monthly fee and customers choose and buy their own IP phones, which they keep.

"We're 3-0 against Avaya IP office when competing for business," he said. "There's not a [branded] product out there that's going to give me the same margins."

Although, like his peers, Hall maintained that finding qualified personnel continues to be one of the biggest challenges in the open source world. "A good Linux guy is hard to find," he added.