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Issue dated - 28th June 2004

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Front Page > SMB Special > Story Print this Page|  Email this page

Open Source: Prime time for SMBs

With IT biggies throwing their weight behind Linux– and a host of smaller players creating products and providing support services for this OS–SMBs may have found just what they were hankering after, says Srikanth R P

Channels play a crucial role in providing services and support, and taking customers through the entire process of Linux adoption and implementation, says Javed Tapia

“For a long time, there were only three options if you wanted to buy software–pay a lot of money for the application, indulge in piracy or non-consumption. Now, open source software offers a fourth option: of affordable solutions,” says Rajesh Jain, CEO of Netcore Solutions. Jain’s quote is significant when you consider the typical challenges that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) face.

Though the basic needs of an SMB are not too different from those of a large enterprise, affordability of solutions has always been a big issue. Indeed, it’s even prompted some firms to go in for pirated software, against their better judgment. Additionally, SMBs look at investing in IT solutions that can be managed with minimal staff to compensate for lack of resources, time, capital and management expertise.

Although Linux has been around for a while, it was largely restricted to the role of a mail server. However, over the past two years its fortunes have changed. Not only have big players such as IBM, HP and Novell rallied around the OS, smaller players too are attracted by the opportunity to be had in bundling Linux-based products and selling said bundles to small and medium enterprises.

It’s a face-off

On the server front, there are two key players in India – old-timer Red Hat India and a rejuvenated Novell with SuSE Linux. Both are bullish about selling Linux to Indian SMBs.

Says Ashit Panjwani, national manager, Alliance and Marketing, Onward Novell Software, “Linux and the entire open source model are best suited for SMBs as with Linux, the total cost of setting up the network infrastructure is much lower than with other networking solutions. There are a number of affordable – even free – messaging solutions that let SMBs communicate with their internal and external counterparts. MySQL can be effectively used as a database for business applications. Similarly, Linux-based firewalls can be deployed for strengthening the security of the organisational network.”

Novell claims that its product – SuSE Standard Server 8.0 – meets all the requirements of the SMB segment. The product can be deployed as an e-mail server, file and print server, or as an application server.

While Red Hat does not have a specific version of its software that is aimed at SMBs, its Enterprise Linux ES is quite popular with this segment. Says Javed Tapia, director, Red Hat India, “SMBs typically use Red Hat products to run edge-of-network applications such as mail, HTTP, file and print, and databases.”

IBM is building many of its product offerings around Linux; Big Blue has rolled out Linux versions of most of its major products.

Says Jyothi Satyanathan, “We’re seeing a strong shift by SMBs towards Linux-based servers. In some sectors, Linux has become a standard. In niche segments such as digital content creation and the EDA industry, there’s a strong tilt towards Linux.”

Open sesame

SMBs are shifting towards Linux-based servers. This is more apparent in niche segments such as digital content creation and the EDA industry, says Jyothi Satyanathan

Even Linux’s biggest stumbling block – ‘lack of support’ – is not a serious issue anymore as nearly every player in the Linux space is trying hard to ensure a dedicated support infrastructure. For example, last year Red Hat expanded its distribution network from 25 channel partners to over 50 spanning 19 cities across India. This year, it’s planning to double its channel partner base. The support of channel partners is crucial as Linux has to overcome its reputation of being an OS for geeks.

Says Tapia, “Channels play a crucial role when it comes to addressing the needs of the SMB segment. They do the handholding, provide services and support, and take customers through the entire process of Linux adoption and implementation.”

Similarly, Novell is conducting education programs for channel partners to help them drive the adoption of Linux among SMBs. It is also pushing hard to make Linux Certified Engineers out of its base of around 15,000 Novell Certified Engineers in India. The company is looking at partnering with Indian ISVs to help them port their applications on to Linux.

Local focus

Open source technologies such as Linux and OpenOffice.org have opened up a set of possibilities that didn’t exist before, says Ashit Panjwani

The Linux movement is not confined to global players such as Red Hat and Novell. Even Indian companies have found a substantial business opportunity in Linux. While most provide support services, some companies like Netcore Solutions have built product suites – at prices that are quite low. Says Rajesh Jain, CEO, Netcore Solutions, “The needs of SMBs are similar to those of enterprise users, except that SMBs cannot pay for customisation or afford high-end solutions. So they need solutions that are integrated and comprehensive, but at lower price points.” Netcore is offering SMBs a Linux server called ‘Pragatee’. The product is bundled with all the applications an SMB should need. Features like messaging, file servers, print servers, database servers, desktop computing, accounting, CRM, knowledge management and security – all this starts at as little as Rs 7,500.

SMBs need solutions that are integrated and comprehensive, but at lower price points, says Rajesh Jain

A single login across multiple packages and remote manageability are some of the features of Netcore’s software. The company has also developed separate products for SMBs for messaging and security, desktop computing, information management and collaboration, and a collection of key business applications that include accounting and CRM.

Linux also offers a big opportunity for local system integrators, who are trying to promote Linux-based solutions among SMBs. For example, Lansmart Technologies, a Mumbai-based network system integrator, derives around 75 percent of its revenues by providing Linux-based training and services.

Says Ryan Lemos, head, Enterprise Networking Solutions Division, Lansmart Technologies, “The myth that Linux is hard and expensive to maintain [has been shattered]. SMBs have been pleasantly surprised to discover that their Linux servers and desktops can be managed and maintained in-house without effort. Some of the hottest selling products based on Linux have been Sendmail/PostFix mail servers, Samba servers, Squid proxy server, Apache web server and netfilter/iptables firewall solutions. We’ve also implemented database servers using MySQL with PHP at the front end.”

Edging out Windows

While SMBs won’t dump their Windows-based tools in a mad rush to migrate to Linux, the shift towards Linux – and other open source technologies – is unmistakable As Panjwani of Onward Novell says, “In a traditionally price-conscious market, it comes as no surprise that open source technologies like Linux and OpenOffice.org have opened up a set of possibilities that didn’t exist before.”

While there are still a few concerns about security and support, as more vendors and system integrators jump on to the Linux bandwagon, SMBs could finally get their hands on the products they have always needed.

Take your pick: SMB Linux
Distribution Vendor Deployment scope Pricing
Red Hat Enterprise Linux ES Red Hat Edge-of-network applications such as file, print, mail and Web servers. Rs 17,500 to Rs 39,950 depending on the level of support
SuSE Standard Server v8.0 Novell SuSE Linux Web (intranet and Internet), e-mail, file and print and application server. Rs 23,368
      Source: Vendors

Coming soon…
HP will support JBoss and MySQL on its servers. Under the agreement with MySQL, the company responsible for the most popular open-source database software program, and JBoss, a Java-based application server software company, HP will certify and support these applications on HP’s servers using Intel-compatible processors. To begin with, HP will support JBoss and MySQL on its Proliant servers using four processors per box as well as its four-way Itanium 2 Integrity servers. By the end of the year, HP will certify and support JBoss and MySQL on 16-way Integrity servers. HP expects that it will be successful with the JBoss and MySQL agreements in the entry-level segment.

Free and functional applications
Application Product scope
KDE Desktop GUI
GNUCash Accounting package
Mozilla Web browser
VMWare Windows emulation tool
GIMP Print and graphics. The OSS alternative to Adobe Photoshop
QCad CAD
MySQL Database
Sendmail A popular mail server
Apache The world's most popular Web server
NMAP Security scanner
IP Filter Firewall
Tripwire IDS
  Source: www.achean.com

srikanth@expresscomputeronline.com

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