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Consultants, VARs and vendors pump developers for Linux 'breakthrough moment'

As open source initiatives gain momentum in both large and small companies, the partnerships and consultants well versed in open source software implementations will take on an important new role in IT deployments.

Much of the infiltration of Linux into the software stack has to date been relegated to the back-room infrastructure space, binding components together at the lower levels.

While some might be quick to dismiss this accomplishment, others see it as the first step in establishing Linux and as an enterprise (and market-wide) technology.

Two analysts who spoke with, said they believe the next step will involve developers finding a breakthrough or "killer app" that will allow the operating system and open source software to exist across all markets.

Both Charles King, the principal analyst with Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-It Research and Jim Balderston, senior analyst with the Union City, Calif.-based Sageza Group, believed consultants, ISV partners and value-added resellers (VARs) that have made a living getting open source and Linux into the trenches of SMBs and enterprise players will likely play a major role in helping developers reach this breakthrough.

Popular initiatives like the LAMP development platform, Balderston said, are becoming everyday examples of how to secure the presence of Linux in the enterprise and are serving as the foundation for larger and more daring implementations of Linux and open source offerings.

In response to a newsletter sent to readers earlier this month, the act of hiring a local consultant -- such as a VAR or system integrator -- was listed as one of the least costly and most effective way to get IT systems up and running.

Consultants and VARs have found a niche with Linux, and the operating system's natural model for innovation and community has provided a perfect match for small and midsized businesses (SMBs) that may not have the personnel or funding to acquire the support of a major vendor like IBM or Hewlett-Packard Co.

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Relying on vendors or doing it with an in-house staff knowledgeable about only one IT niche, often means making the company's needs fit the capabilities of a single product line, like Microsoft Windows, according to several of the respondents.

Hands-on development more than just a sugar coating

The cultivation of Linux in smaller markets appeared to take another step forward this month after Novell Inc. announced a new partnership program with open source CRM vendor SugarCRM.

SugarCRM became a partner in Novell's Market Start program, which is designed to provide back-office software for SMBs. Many analysts see the plan as part of Novell's larger plan to engage SMBs on their terms with the Linux line.

One analyst firm saw moves similar to the Novell partnership as proof of additional opportunities for stimulation within the developer community.

According to a research note from the Sageza Group, when developers are given the opportunity to write code, without messing around with the hierarchy and imposed development paradigms, they tend to code for 72 hours, crash for 24 and in the process come up with innovative and elegant code.

Farming the developer fields for Linux innovation

Another venue that has gained in size and momentum alongside Linux and open source is IBM's PartnerWorld and DeveloperWorks programs.

Big Blue stated that more than 100,000 Linux developers have joined DeveloperWorks and have created over 6,500 Linux-based applications since 2003. Every month, 250,000 developers visit the "Linux zone" on the DeveloperWorks site and more than 10,000 developers take part in DeveloperWorks' Linux tutorials every month, IBM said.

King said a second initiative, IBM PartnerWorld, is an early stage development community that focuses on getting Linux into smaller markets.

Similar efforts exist within HP's Linux Expertise Centers, where developers and business partners can join to develop Linux applications and services, and then test them on HP hardware. King said other vendors like Dell Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. also had programs similar to HP and IBM, but as yet had not promoted them as aggressively.

"The challenge is that small businesses tend to not have the kind of IT hardware and turnover that larger business does, and they kind of hang onto things until they croak," King said.

As large vendors level the playing field with programs aimed at stimulating Linux growth in the smaller market, however -- King gave Linux on Power and Chiphopper as examples -- then every developer who has the capability of working with Linux and open source applications will be intimately involved with end users.

"Going forward, the open source community will continue to gain ground as each and every vendor that puts a solution in place aids and abets the next open source vendor that happens [to come] along. Novell may start an installation, IBM may follow or vice versa. It does not matter," said Sageza senior industry analyst Jim Balderston. "As open source offerings begin to [address] end-user difficulties, the momentum for Linux and open source vendors will accelerate."

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