As the number of Linux server migrations continue to skyrocket, many channel providers are struggling with exactly what to offer their clients. While some of their clients are very focused on development of new systems and projects, others are more focused on preventing production problems and meeting service level agreements (SLAs).
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As a VAR or systems integrator, you probably prefer doing only large-scale server migration and consolidation projects; but offering that service alone may not provide your clients with everything they really need. You must determine how best you can help support your Linux clients, both short and long term. Obviously, there will be a lot of planning to align your business goals with your strategy. What kind of resources will you need? What types of systems should you recommend to your clients? Who should you be partner with to help you provide the most comprehensive solutions possible to the client? In this article, we'll be discussing all these topics and more.
Linux server migration resources
The most important resource you will manage is human capital. Smart IT managers already know they can purchase the best infrastructure with the greatest management tools and also have the most supportive senior managers, but at the end of the day if they don't have the right people around them to make them look good and support their infrastructure effectively, they will fail. You must provide resources that bring the most value to the client.
Sometimes this involves bringing in someone who may not be the best technologist, but has a mix of desired soft skills and technical skills. Are you looking for a Linux geek or are you looking for people who know how to work within the confines of a team? Can your people work with end users or do you need to lock them up in cages and feed them raw meat? Though there are exceptions (i.e. Wall Street Brokerage companies), you will find that it is far better to work with less technical types that have some soft skills then purely technical whiz kids who have no respect for anything other than something containing a computer chip.
Furthermore, who will manage your projects? Do you already have a capable infrastructure project manager in house, or do you need to go outside your company and hire a contract PM for your projects? I strongly recommend that you hire a full-time PMP certified project manager, as that will provide instant credibility for the person managing the project, representing your company. For larger projects, more than likely you'll have to bring in contract resources to help implement your project. You will need to determine if you have the right human resources to recruit qualified independent contractors directly, rather than go through third parties and pay a premium for the same person. Try to hire HR types that are attuned with the technology solutions you are selling.
Linux server migration strategy
The offerings that you will provide may depend on what type of channel partner you are. Are you more of an infrastructure company or a software/applications company? In most instances, you are usually one or the other. That doesn't mean you can't provide a turn-key solution to the client, it just means you'll have to partner with other companies to tailor your solution.
Let's take an example of a typical Linux server migration. Most larger businesses today have enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications running on some kind of Unix platform and would like to take advantage of the many benefits offered by running their ERP applications on Linux. As you should already know, some of the advantages of migrating to Linux are cost, flexibility, scalability and enhanced security features. If offered on the right platform, Linux can scale even better than some Unix flavors, while offering more flexibility in terms of hardware and software options. The assessment phase is a key offering that you will need to provide to your clients. You'll have to go on-site and determine exactly what it is that they have and where they'd like to be. Your job is taking them there.
The assessment phase can even include setting up a proof of concept (POC) for the client; to show them the value that your solution can provide. This POC would focus on infrastructure design and limited application functionality on the infrastructure. You'll also need to detail exactly how their total cost of ownership (TCO) will drop by going to Linux. Be prepared to offer PowerPoint and Excel presentations to both senior management and technical staff. This presentation should cover how performance, availability and reliability will increase.
Dell and IBM are examples of partners you may want to look at to help you tailor a solution to a client. For example, if the client is already a large IBM shop, you may want to consider offering them a solution based on IBM's Power Architecture. Coupling the 64-bit POWER5 processors with the speed and flexibility of Linux makes for some innovative possibilities. IBM's system p platform allows one to run either Unix or Linux on its hardware. This solution can be particularly helpful to companies looking to do data center consolidations because Linux on Power (LoP) allows one to scale vertically inside one large system, rather then horizontally, with traditional server farms. IBM and qualified IBM business partners can help steer you to the right offerings.
Applications migration strategy
At some point, you will need to go to the client and be prepared to discuss an actual migration strategy. Typically, the phases of a migration include an assessment and preparation phase, an execution phase and finally an acceptance and closure phase, where project closure occurs. During the planning phase, you'll need to come up with acceptance criteria, a work breakdown schedule, a project plan, a risk assessment strategy and a formal communications document that will detail the method of communications that will be used during the project. The execution phase will include the tasks that will be performed to deploy the final product. For example, if you are doing an SAP migration, this is where actual initial test database migrations will occur, as well as the final actual production cutover.
The acceptance phase will include user acceptance testing and documentation turnover. As a channel provider, you will find that nothing will be as important as partnering with the right solutions vendor for implementation. For example, IBM offers services in this arena, through their IBM Migration Factory. Partnering with such a company gives you instant credibility and further allows you to augment your limited resources with theirs. They can even help you deploy a prototype/POC (through other IBM resources) to the client, which might be cost prohibitive for you to do alone.
I've often been asked what kind of client to offer these solutions to. Only you know who your target audience is. If most of your clients are in healthcare, my recommendation is to specialize in that arena, as the more referenced clients you have in one particularly industry the better. Regarding which of your clients to offer the services, it all starts and ends with the return on investment (ROI). The projects to spearhead for the client must have a business value. If you can show them that migrating to Linux will cut their TCO, senior management will be much more likely to approve your project. If the company does not need a solution to a real problem, don't go looking to sell them something they don't need. That is the worst thing a channel partner can do. If you really understand your clients, that should never happen. If it does, you may not be a partner of there's for long.
About the author:
Ken Milberg is a technology writer and site expert for TechTarget.com, providing Linux technical information and support to SearchSystemsChannel.com and SearchOpenSource.com. Ken writes and technical edits IBM Systems Magazine (Open Edition) and provides content for IBM developerWorks. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer and Information Science, as well as a Master of Science in Technology Management from the University of Maryland University College. He is the founder and group leader of the Long Island POWER-AIX users group. Through the years, he has worked for both large and small organizations and has held diverse positions from CIO to Senior AIX Engineer. Today, he works for Future Tech, a Long Island-based IBM business partner. Ken is a PMI-certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and an IBM Certified Advanced Technical Expert (CATE, IBM System p5 2006).