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Money for nothing?

What does open source mean for the local channel?

The irony! Twenty years ago few organisations would touch open source; now, no organisation is without it. The Margin spoke to local open source companies to sound out opportunities for the channel.

Muggie van Staden, MD, Obsidian Systems, says the company started playing around with open source technology in 1995. “We stumbled onto Linux and we liked the fact you could play with it and there was no real cost involved. You could learn quickly and modify it, and we started to realise we could build a services organisation helping people utilise open source technology,” he says.

For Stefan Lesicnik, MD, LSD Information Technology, it was a similar journey, as the company also started out using Linux. LSD originally stood for Linux System Dynamics, but that has now been dropped as open source is not just about Linux.

Tracing the company’s roots from 2001, Leiscnik says the conversation back then had been about why people needed to use open source. “But now,” he says, “if you’re a company and not doing open source in some way or form, then you’ve missed the boat and you’re not leveraging the benefits and agility it can bring.”

Barriers to entry

Van Staden says the company now sells a lot of enterprise open source – which hadn’t been the case in the past – bundled with support and certification. Is it an easy area to get into? Van Staden says he thinks it’s fantastic that if a school pupil wants to understand how operating systems work they could get a copy of Linux, and ‘go play’.

“To get into it you need passion. It’s trying to help solve problems,” he says.

In the proprietary world, if an operating system isn't available on a particular chipset, you have to wait for the vendor to decide to release an OS.

“In the open source world nothing stops anybody from doing it. That’s why Linux runs on pretty much everything,” he says.

Lesicnik says open source is a complex area, and one in which where there’s constant innovation.

“The people who we have are really passionate about this kind of open source technology and technology in general.”

Many enterprises would be looking to purchase a subscription, but they still needed to implement the solution. “That’s where the expertise comes in and that’s why the partner ecosystem exists around services and implementation,” he says.

Some of LSD’s customers are able to fully implement solutions themselves, while others, perhaps new to the space, would need help with the system architecture.

There were also a number of emerging technologies that customers were interested in, such as Docker.

This is echoed by Van Staden, who says in the new world of agile and DevOps, it’s about helping people getting the data where it needs to be, such as with Hadoop.

“It’s about how to build the next generation of applications. We help our customers take open source open and harness it so they can get value out of this new world where everything is code and everything is service,” Van Staden says.

While LSD is an open-source company, Lesicnik says it’s technology agonistic.

“We don't have any proprietary technology in our stack, but when we’re engaging with a customer there’s definitely going to be proprietary and legacy stuff there. It’s not about rip and replace and put open source in for the sake of it,” he says.

“It must be a value-driven discussion and frankly there are still some places where proprietary software may offer better functionality and features over the open source tech. We use open source where it makes sense and adds value to the customer.”

Which skills pay the bills?

When it comes to the skills needed to make money from open source Van Staden says that it’s about having a passion for technology and solving problems, as much as it was about understanding the needs of the customer.

“It’s like any business. There’s no sense in making a service available that nobody wants. You can’t make money out of that. It’s understanding what customers are struggling with and then harnessing it. If it wasn’t for open source, Facebook and Google would never have been able to start their businesses.”

Lesicnik says there’s definitely a bias around Linux that is pervasive in open source technology.

“Developers are critical to the market. There’s definitely a strong developer mindset or skillset that will be really beneficial. It’s also experience. You’re able to look at problems end-to-end and understand where the open source can fit and add value,” he says.

How open source and proprietary, licenced software will sit together in another 20 remains to be seen.

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