Linux stands to rescue the channel

Adelaide service provider Interweb Connections has smoothly moved into the Linux world and is recommending its channel brethren follow.

Describing the current IT channel as a "closed shop for all but the big shop fronts", Interweb director Steve O'Connor perceives Linux as an opportunity to work in the international arena. "The broad reach of the Internet, combined with the network capabilities of Unix in general, place you a lot closer to your customers. Linux can really open up your market," said O'Connor.

And in an era epitomised by services rather than box moving, O'Connor cannot extol the benefits of Linux loud enough. "In the post-Linux world, IT channel income is directly related to value add. Add no value, receive no income," said O'Connor.

"This new world demands a higher level of skill and speed. It will mercilessly devour those organisations that don't measure up technically, while offering much greater rewards for those that do."

Interweb's call comes as a growing number of channel companies begin to seriously investigate Linux.

In addition, the Linux interest coincides with news last week of Gateway's plan to join the throng of PC vendors supporting the platform. The direct vendor said it will provide Red Hat Software's version of Linux 6.0 on its Advanced Logic Research Gateway servers when asked by customers.

Chris Dimmock, sales and marketing director for distributor Genitech, is another who encourages the channel to look at Linux because its components are certified as well as the end product. "When companies like Red Hat certify the components in a Linux machine it means resellers can tailor a system very easily. You can't do that with any other system," said Dimmock.

Although the equation seems simple, the dominance of Microsoft and the fear O'Connor has witnessed in the channel means that the future of Linux is not as obvious as some of the hype suggests. "Ninety-nine per cent of my peers don't know where to start. I have seen experienced, professional and well-presented MSCE types display horrible discomfort when faced with a site using a Linux box in the middle. There is genuine fear there - they are even afraid to touch the keyboard," exclaimed O'Connor.

Interweb, however, has taken the first step and created a "dealer kit" which includes a fully configured hard disk, video card and mouse. "The hard disk has Linux installed, hand optimised and is set up for the provided video card," said O'Connor. "Getting it up and running is a no-brainer. I tested the concept on my 12-year-old nephew and he had a working Linux machine, complete with Web server, ftp server, SQL database and GUI point-of-sale software up and running in 25 minutes."

O'Connor says he has been getting quite a few enquiries from overseas about his Linux package, especially from people who don't have much in-house IT expertise. For this reason O'Connor has created a dealer network to promote both Linux and Interweb-developed products.

"We grant the purchaser of the kit an informal dealership arrangement and they become the contact point in their areas for our products." This network of value-added resellers is supported through Interweb's international solution provider partnerships, explained O'Connor.

Vendors including IBM, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard and Dell have been offering Linux versions of products for some time, although only Dell makes it available as a standard feature; the others configure products purely on customer demand. According to O'Connor, this trend makes it even more pertinent for channel players, especially developers and value-added resellers, to get on the Linux bandwagon now.

And from its present incarnation as a server and network OS, Linux appears to be moving into the desktop and high-end market space. "IBM is in boots and all," said Joner Nader, e-business software manager for IBM. "We already have a beta program in place for our high-end products to support Linux and offer database and voice activation software products with Linux."

According to Nader, IBM is also developing Linux on Intel's new IA-64 bit architecture.

Genitech's Dimmock described Linux as a "chameleon" because of its habit of infiltrating corporations without being noticed. "Linux was traditionally sold as an appliance. Resellers would sell a firewall or a mail server and the fact that is was Linux would be irrelevant," he explained. But the onset of products like Samba have changed this equation.

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