If you're thinking of adding open source-based managed services to the menu of products your customers can select, and you're coming from a Windows and Microsoft-based background, here are some questions to consider to help you hone your offerings and marketing efforts.
What is your core competency? Offering services just to chase after money is a bad idea if you don't have the knowledge, expertise or experience to back up your products. That said, many channel professionals cut their teeth in the early days of mainstream computing on Unix-based systems, so offering open source services and platform deployments via Linux, FreeBSD and other operating systems may simply be a throwback to the days of old.
What value does an open source managed service offering add for your clients? As satisfying as making a political statement can be, a wholesale switch on the server, client or both away from Microsoft technologies does not always make good business sense. Do you have the skills and the belief in open source technologies to illustrate where these products would have a positive financial impact in your customers' businesses? What kinds of problems will open source software solve? What types of services can you offer to dovetail with those solutions and ultimately create a better value for your customer?
For instance, perhaps you could implement better terminal-based services than Windows will allow. Or perhaps you can run a Linux-based Web server and mail server at a certain percentage of the cost of a Microsoft deployment. Better still, maybe Linux can breathe some new life into older hardware that the customer may already have given up on. These are all options.
Are you noticing a resistance to the "upgrade game" when dealing with Microsoft technologies? If this latest release of Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 has spurred a somewhat lackluster response from your clients, perhaps they're interested in a less arduous upgrade cycle. Perhaps the better licensing terms appeal to your customers, and the fact that upgrades to Linux systems and, for the most part, Linux programs, do not require any cash outlay for the code itself -- the cost is in the support. If you are serious about drumming up demand for your open source managed services, touting the end of the upgrade ball-and-chain is a point that will resonate with your clients.
Do your clients have a large revenue stream in businesses that traditionally have used non-Windows systems? For example, if you work with clients in the media business, you might find that graphic designers, layout artists and even academic persons often work in non-Microsoft spaces. If you haven't broken into these types of submarkets yet, your services and credibility will mean a lot to prospective customers who don't want Windows and Office foisted upon them. However, if you have customers with sizable existing investments in Windows and Office technology, you might find Linux and other open source solutions a harder sell.
Can you do diligence when offering both traditional Windows services and open source services simultaneously? If you're a one-man shop, there is the "you factor" cost: That is, when you're with a client deploying open source solutions, that is time that you physically can't be offering Windows solutions. What is your demand curve like? Can you really offer enough savings to the client in terms of support and cost of ownership that it makes sense to go open source over a traditional Windows deployment? Are you really offering your clients a benefit? These are all things to consider.
About the author: Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker residing in Charlotte, North Carolina. Jonathan's books include RADIUS, Learning Windows Server 2003, Hardening Windows and most recently Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual. His work is seen regularly in popular periodicals such as Windows IT Pro Magazine, SecurityFocus, PC Pro and Microsoft TechNet Magazine. He speaks around the world on topics including Windows administration, networking and security.