With customers increasingly comfortable with open source, how can the channel add value?
Much has changed within the storage channel over the past few years. New technologies, especially cloud-computing, have created innovative business models that have transformed not only what channel businesses sell, but the way they sell them too. As a result, many resellers have evolved into service providers in a process that is now fairly well understood.
However, there is another, lesser-known evolution that is equally important: not only is the channel changing, but so too are customers. This new type of customer is comfortable with cloud technologies and with the increasingly related area of open source operating systems, which they are looking to use in new ways. If channel organisations are to capitalise on these customers then they need to understand how they can add value through open source.
The move to open source
Cloud and virtualisation have been so successful largely because they make IT easy. From software applications to storage it has never been easier to buy and interface with enterprise IT. This has led to something of a democratisation process whereby business unit managers have taken greater control of their IT resources. It is now well documented: the IT department is no longer always the gatekeeper to enterprise IT and increasingly acts as broker between the business and the cloud vendor.
Less well documented is that with the cloud has come an opening of the IT ecosystem. Proprietary code is giving way to open source as newly-empowered customers demand to do more with their IT infrastructures. As a result, the penetration of cloud computing is leading to huge levels of interest in open source cloud systems such as Openstack. We have seen open source communities respond to this interest, making their platforms ever more scalable, flexible and reliable.
Opportunities for the channel
As this has happened, customers have started to think again about what open source can do. Where it was once used almost exclusively in test and development environments, businesses are in many cases looking to extend open source to mission critical applications.
The extent of this change should not be underestimated. As open source moves up the chain to mission critical, businesses are looking for something a little different in their cloud operating systems. They want the ease and flexibility of open source, but they want the features and capabilities traditionally seen in proprietary systems. This is where the channel can add real value, either by delivering services wrapped around architecting Openstack cloud infrastructures or exploiting reference architectures and tailoring systems to meet customer requirements.
This is a new type of customer for the channel to target with a new type of solution. These businesses want to consume IT resources in a very different way to the past. They want things to be software-defined and endlessly malleable. They also want to be able to virtualise their entire storage infrastructure, regardless of the vendor and regardless of whether it is cloud-based or on-premise, and use it all as a common pool of resources that can be shifted according to need. Open source is well-suited to meeting these requirements.
While mission critical open source is on the rise, however, it is important to note that developers will continue to be an important market for the channel. In application development the ability to move various resources seamlessly around private and public clouds is absolutely essential. It not only reduces the cost of development, but also reduces time-to-market. Open source solutions that can glue these environments together in a hybrid cloud are ideally suited to this requirement, providing the orchestration and IT automation needed to build modern applications.
If application development lies at the heart of modern digital businesses then the ability of the channel to enable more flexible development environments through open source represents a huge market opportunity.
Finally, open source provides channel businesses with further opportunities around big data. As big data analytics evolves, platforms such as Hadoop are commoditising. What now interests businesses is the value-add services that open source help deliver on top of Hadoop, such as in-memory analytics. Channel organisations must be alive to the opportunities available around architecting and deploying big data environments. Indeed, nearly every day new use cases and deployments are emerging and it is imperative channel businesses act now to enjoy the fruits of big data.
Three steps to open source success
As channel organisations look to capitalise on the new customers and solution portfolios made available through open source, there are three key points to bear in mind to be successful.
- Channel businesses must actively engage with the open source community
To succeed in open source it is essential that organisations are plugged-in to the community and actively contributing towards it. If a systems integrator business comes up with new functionality for an open source system, it needs to make this enhancement available to all members of the community. Similarly, channel businesses should look to partner with vendors with a track record of participating in and contributing towards open source projects.
- Leverage reference architectures and integrated solutions
A quick route to success in open source is for channel businesses to either extend existing reference architectures from vendor partners or to develop their own and then wrap value-add services on top. The requirement for services to be layered on top of reference architectures is where the channel can cut out a niche for itself and deliver against a pressing customer needs.
- Embrace software-defined infrastructure
The buyers of open source and Openstack style solutions are cost-sensitive. After all, if open source has any one core attribute then it has got to be value for money. In this environment, there is a strong case to be made for deploying software-defined propositions as they allow customers to leverage all existing and new storage resources regardless of where they sit within the enterprise. Software-defined delivers storage at the sort of cost points that appeal to an open source audience.
As the channel continues to evolve, businesses will increasingly look to open source systems for a growing range of use cases. This is a huge opportunity for those channel businesses that can get their sales propositions right.
In part success means working with vendors that understand not only open source, but also the types of applications that are being built in open source environments. These partners will be able to deliver the tool chains and orchestration capabilities that channel businesses will need to build-in to their propositions in order to layer together technologies from multiple vendors in a seamless whole.
Dorian Naveh is senior director, strategic alliances at EMC