Guest Column | July 23, 2015

The Appeal Of Open Source And The Opportunities For VARS

By Bernard Golden, Vice President, Strategy, ActiveState

Open Source And The Opportunities For VARS

Enterprise IT decision makers are now among the ranks of those taking a long look at what open source software can offer their organizations. Given the advantages, this transition comes as no surprise. VARs would do well to pay attention to this trend and be prepared to offer strategic advice and solutions that will help their enterprise customers address current and future needs.

One of these advantages is increased transparency, as the word “open” implies. Not only is the source code available, but so are all of the other attributes. That’s a far cry from the secrecy shrouding proprietary software. This openness makes it easier to evaluate the product and its community to determine if using the product is a good decision for your enterprise.

Another advantage is increased innovation. By allowing anyone to contribute code, open source products can incorporate a greater diversity of use cases. That’s not the only facet though. As the saying goes, no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for other companies. Open source permits — and encourages — leveraging of the collective knowledge of the larger developer base. In turn, this enables access to greater innovation.

Third, open source software offers a greater ability to affect product direction.  It’s a truism that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and the squeaky wheel of the software industry is the customer with the biggest investment. If your customer is a small player with a significant proprietary software vendor, they had better hope their product objectives align with the vendor or its large users; otherwise, their feature requests are likely to get tossed in the circular file. With open source, they can directly interact with developers to present their use cases. What’s more, they even can contribute code that implements their desired functionality.

Why Use Of Open Source Is On The Rise

With an understanding of the advantages of open source, let’s explore a greater value: These types of licensing models are a far better fit for the Third Platform world. The inherent load variability means that new instances/containers are being started and stopped all the time. That’s a huge challenge when it comes to proprietary code products, which typically are licensed on a perpetual basis per instance/container. For an application with an extremely high use — over 10 percent of its lifespan — that could mean purchasing a lot of licenses that rarely get used. Proprietary licenses work fine for static applications with stable use profiles, but they aren’t a good fit for the Third Platform.

The fact that open source licenses allow for application design that supports high load variability with no cost constraints suggests open source is on a fast track to dominating new applications. The ubiquity of proprietary infrastructure ISV is on its way out. Once your customer has decided to make open source a key feature of their enterprise’s IT: infrastructure, there are several important factors to consider:

  • Build Open Source Skills: Commitment to open source requires more than just downloading and installing a software component. Enterprise staff must be more willing to be engaged with a product and its community; after all, there’s no “help desk” to call up for support. Self-reliance is key.
  • Identify Dependencies: Though open source will be spread throughout customers’ applications, certain components will represent critical dependencies, and it’s imperative that they be identified. When it comes to components that represent dependencies, it’s important to understand the inherent commitment. Customers can be just as locked in to an open source product as a proprietary one, so keep your eyes open.
  • Determine The Level Of Contribution: For any code that is written, a decision must be made about where to place it. If an enterprise contributes it to the product (and goes through what may be a challenging contribution process, depending upon the product), their code will become part of the product and be present in future releases.

What’s in it for VARs?

Naturally, the question that arises with open source is “Where’s the revenue for me?” Compared to the fat license fees associated with proprietary software, low- or no-cost open source software seems unappealing.

Notwithstanding this issue, there are many other areas that open source provides revenue opportunities:

  • First, some open source products have enterprise support agreements associated with using them. A VAR that delivers the deal can realize part of the support agreement — and even realize part of the fees in downstream years, something that is typically not possible with proprietary products.
  • Second, many users want the benefit of open source but don’t want to take on the responsibility of installing, patching, monitoring, and managing the product. A VAR can take on that task and thereby receive an ongoing monthly revenue stream.
  • Third, open source products need to be customized and integrated to mesh into a user’s existing computing infrastructure. Smart VARS beef up their technical services and view this aspect of open source as a revenue opportunity.

Open source is changing the game for enterprise IT. Once considered the domain of small businesses and start-ups, open source software offers greater transparency, innovation and opportunity to affect product direction. Perhaps the most significant advantage is that these types of licensing models are a better fit for the Third Platform. VARs have an opportunity to further their reputation among enterprise clients as trusted technology advisors and steer them toward solutions that will further their business goals.

Named by Wired.com as one of the ten most influential persons in cloud computing, Bernard Golden serves as vice president, strategy for ActiveState Software. Prior to ActiveState he was senior director, cloud computing, for Dell Computer, which he joined when it acquired Enstratius, a leading cloud management software company, where he served as vice president, enterprise solutions.

Golden also serves as the cloud computing advisor for CIO Magazine; his blog has been named to over a dozen “best of cloud computing” lists and is read by tens of thousands of persons each month. He is a highly regarded speaker, and has keynoted cloud conferences around the world. He is the author or co-author of four books on virtualization and cloud computing, including his most recent book, Amazon Web Services for Dummies, published in autumn 2013