Why channel firms must occupy the driving seat of open source

car windscreen

Open source software has become increasingly popular over the past decade. It seems to have conquered the world when it comes to a range of technology areas including web design and hosting. WordPress and Drupal are highly favoured, for example, while in the world of containers, Kubernetes has become the de-facto standard for management and orchestration. In the realm of databases, open source options including MySQL, PostgreSQL and MongoDB are all great. In fact, seven of the ten most popular databases are open source according to DB Engines.

However, there are also significant challenges. Companies like MongoDB and Elastic have changed their licenses to stave off competition from cloud providers. This involves taking projects that were previously open and effectively making them proprietary. Does this trend signal that the opportunity for open source will be contracting in future? The onus will be on channel firms to carve out the opportunities that might exist between free projects on one hand and cloud services that try to capture their value on the other.

The open source opportunity for the channel anchors on providing enterprises with additional choices when it comes to their future software purchases. Rather than simply surrendering to proprietary services or cloud options, companies can still embrace the community and 100% open source software in their business applications without vendor lock-in, or fear of changing license terms.

More commitment, more reward

While open source projects have proven to be reliable at-scale in some of the biggest deployments around the world, most enterprises will need support for their projects. This is because many teams today are focused on delivering new platforms, or building services, rather than on operating existing IT. A good example of this is the role of the in-house database administrator, which is reducing in popularity over time as internal IT moves to a DevOps approach. Channel companies can help businesses fill that gap and demonstrate their open source expertise.

Many organisations will be reluctant to deploy open source databases without enterprise-grade features, but might also want to make their budget go further. Committing to a cloud service is one approach, but it normally swallows up the whole project leaving little room for the partner to deliver their own services. Reducing the cloud or software spend means that there is more budget for value-add services opportunities available to the partner.

This isn’t a novel approach for channel partners involved with open source, and it forms the basis for many partners creating and fulfilling opportunities for their customers. However, with the option of simply moving to a cloud service now available, partners today need to articulate why working directly with them is a better option for the customer. To achieve this, partners should provide better services that are truly different against standard support and service agreements. Rather than being a passenger on the open source bus following a particular company’s vision, partners will have to become drivers alongside the open source project community. This means more engagement and contribution, but it also provides more opportunity over time.

Thinking ahead

Using free distributions can help partners compete against more expensive cloud services, leaving their customer’s budget for services and support. By way of comparison, partners can look at the difference between franchise car dealerships and independent operators. Franchise dealerships will always support their marquee brand, and they will tend to be more expensive because of that brand. For the independent operators, the opportunity is there to provide exactly what customers need for their specific use cases, providing value by being unbiased.

For channel firms, building a business around open source involves thinking ahead. Companies supporting open source projects have to consider how they will differentiate themselves from other companies, and add value to free projects. This can include developing their own software to solve specific problems, having specialist skills on hand for implementation projects, or helping customers migrate their implementations to the cloud on their terms rather than simply using as a Service options.

Within this, there are opportunities to build services for customers that support their goals and meet their need to save money and fulfil particular requirements. By understanding exactly what their wants, needs, and obligations are, you can build out new customer offerings that help them make the most of open source.

Martin James is vice president EMEA at Percona