Hardware as a Service Meets Linux

Should managed service providers start adding Linux-type devices to their hardware as a service (HaaS) strategy? Before you answer, consider a conversation I had with Canonical (developer of Ubuntu Linux) at last week's OSCON (Open Source Convention). Here's the scoop.

A Canonical source told me he expects Linux devices to soon become free as part of Internet service contracts. The products will be so-called Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), which Canonical, Intel and other companies are evangelizing.

I'm an Ubuntu Linux user myself -- but I realize Linux remains a tiny niche in the desktop market. Still, I think progressive MSPs -- especially in the government and education markets -- should explore Linux-oriented HaaS services.

At a time when Microsoft is reinforcing its efforts to promote Windows Vista, even the company's most loyal partners are making Linux PC-focused moves. Check out this Web page from Dell, for instance, promoting Ubuntu Linux pre-installed on laptops and desktops.

I have one of the systems. My kids use it. My wife uses it. They never had a minute of training on Linux. Now, let's apply their experience to a cost-conscious small business.

For the typical user -- who needs email, Web browsing and productivity applications -- Linux is now ready for the mainstream. I use OpenOffice (the open source alternative to Microsoft Office) and exchange files with Microsoft users all day. Nobody ever notices that I live outside of the Microsoft world.

Linux Meets MSPs

For MSPs, Linux is compelling because you can really customize the system -- and lock it down for small business novices, etc. Things will get particularly interesting later this year, when Linux-based sub-notebooks (known as NetBooks) start flooding the market.

MSP platform providers are waking up to the reality that some end users are making the Linux move. That's why Kaseya, for one, has introduced remote Linux administration.

Linux Goes Vertical

Linux is particularly appealing in the government and education markets. Intel, for instance, is promoting Classmate PCs, which are "purpose-built Netbooks for Education." The systems target K-6 kids in the United states, and K-12 in emerging markets.

In the higher education market, just about every university CIO is familiar with Linux and open source. And multi-user Linux systems, which have multiple keyboards and screens linked to a single Linux PC, are showing up in university computer labs, libraries and study areas.

I'm not suggesting that you'll move all of your customers from Windows to Linux. But as you do hardware refreshes, Linux-based systems could be a tempting HaaS option because they're affordable, reliable and easy to use. Just ask my kids.
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