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Partner with mixed-stack solution providers

Offer your customers both open source and proprietary software options to address their application needs -- and partner with the right mixed-stack solution providers to deploy the solution properly.

Ken Milberg
While open-source idealists would probably like to see a completely open-source stack of software certified and prebundled on servers for easy consumption by SMB shops, the reality is that the majority of businesses will need a mix of open and closed source software that will be driven not by desire, but by the needs of their applications.

So how does one deploy a mixed-stack solution in a customer's shop with good results? What are some of the challenges and best practices?

First, it's important that you recognize that it is all about the customer and his needs and less about any movement. If the customer wants to use JBoss and Oracle Server, who are you to talk them out of it? You must embrace it and embrace those companies that deploy these mixed-stack solutions.

Case in point: Novell. Novell partnered with Hewlett-Packard (HP) to create a mixed-source stack that includes their SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 running on HP's two-way ProLiant BL20p and four-way BL30p blade servers, based on Intel's Xeon processors. The applications are JBoss Application Server 4.0 (the latest version of the JBoss Web application server and the first open source app server that is J2EE compliant) and Oracle's 10g database.

More on mixed-stack solutions
Part 1: LAMP not so practical for production shops

This was the first mixed stack to come out of the validated Configuration Program that Novell announced at its annual BrainShare user group meeting in Salt Lake City back in March 2005. At the time, Novell promised validated stacks of software running on HP iron in the areas of security, high availability, virtualization, systems management and monitoring, and application hosting, and said it would also deliver a stack for transaction processing.

As a channel partner, you don't have the time to certify and validate mixed-stack solutions on your own. You need to identify companies that have already done this and work them; partner with them to provide added value to the client.

"Customers need to know that they'll be able to deploy their Linux-based applications without any disruption to their business," said David Patrick, vice president and general manager, Linux, Open Source Platforms and Services for Novell, when the announcement was made. He went on to elaborate that mixed stack "…allows customers to save time and money in modeling and pilot testing, as well as gives them peace of mind that the solution will work as promised."

Under the Novell Validated Configuration Program, Novell and its partners will integrate and test all stack components with one another to ensure enterprise-class. As a result of this deal, in related news, Novell officials also announced that they had struck a multiyear, multimillion dollar deal with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Officials at Novell stated that they were the first Linux vendor to have struck a deal with the federal department.

As part of the arrangement, HHS gets unlimited use of Novell's product line, including SLES, Novell Linux Desktop and identity-based services, used for security and integration.

Perhaps the most important factor to consider is on-going customer support. Many vendors struggle with that aspect of the business. They may have a strong engineering staff that can design and deploy, but lack the resources to provide on-going support to the customer. Specific support services could apply to the infrastructure (hardware), systems software (Linux OS), database software (i.e. MySQL or other database) or applications (Apache). This could involve helping with Unix and Linux shell scripting to getting down and dirty with middleware tuning on Tomcat, Apache or whatever the actual open source application would be.

If you are a channel partner, don't overlook this aspect of your business. If you do, your customer will look elsewhere for the support and when they do, that other company will probably also get the next engineering or design job. In today's market, every aspect of service is key. Understanding this philosophy, will go a long way towards keeping your clients loyal to your firm, while at the same time opening up another revenue stream for your business.

Read part one of this two-part tip for information about LAMP, an all open-source stack solution.

About the author: Kenneth Milberg is a systems consultant with his own independent consulting firm, Unix-Linux Solutions. He has 15 years' worth of experience with Unix and Linux systems, as well as broad technical and functional experience with AIX, HP, SCO, Linux and Solaris. Milberg holds certifications with IBM (IBM Certified Systems Expert -- eServer p5 and pSeries Enterprise Technical Support AIX 5L V5.3 & IBM Certified Specialist –HACMP), SUN (SCNA,SCSA), HP (HP Certified –HP-UX administration) Cisco (CCNA) and Oracle (OCP-DBO).

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