Open Source SaaS Finally Connecting With Managed Services

I've been hyping the convergence of open source, software as a service (SaaS) and managed service providers (MSPs) in recent months. But I have to admit, it has been difficult to find MSPs that actually run a large mix of open source SaaS systems. That all changed tonight at the MSP Revolution conference, when I met John Truitt, president of Kalleo Technologies.

Kalleo, based in Peducah, Kentucky, leverages Asterisk, SugarCRM, Nagios and GroundWork Open Source as part of its daily managed services business. The systems aren't perfect -- not yet, at least -- but they reflect key emerging trends that will go mainstream across the managed services market over the next two to five years, I believe. Here's why.

First, I'm not suggesting that MSPs should go entirely open source -- nor should they remain entirely closed source. Hybrid, best-of-breed approaches are emerging. And there's no denying the growing potential of open source to MSPs.

A few examples:

1. Asterisk, backed by companies like Digium and Fonality, is an open source PBX that's catching on within small businesses. Similar to how Linux disrupted Windows and Unix, Asterisk is disrupting the traditional PBX phone system market. And in some cases, it's disrupting voice-over-IP unified communications systems sold by Cisco Systems and other large networking companies.

Kalleo, for instance, originally thought Asterisk would be a nice add-on sale for managed services engagements. Instead, the reverse is true: Companies are reaching out to Kalleo for Asterisk phone systems, and Kalleo often is able to up-sell them to managed services, says Truitt.

Don't underestimate Asterisk. Fonality, a major developer of Asterisk and open source telephone solutions, recently received more funding from Intel Capital. And Fonality plans to use the money, at least in part, for potential applications.

2. SugarCRM, the leading open source customer relationship management system, is catching on with hosting companies. Roughly 30 percent of SugarCRM's deployments now involve hosted CRM, according to company CEO John Roberts. And other open source CRM providers -- such as Compiere and Concursive -- are aggressively pushing hosted applications.

3. GroundWork Open Source and Nagios are disrupting traditional management and administration tools like CA Unicenter, HP OpenView, BMC and IBM Tivoli. Some HP OpenView. Truitt raved about Nagios in particular, but he did concede some lingering challenges.

Most specifically, there are integration "gaps" between each open source platform, notes Truitt. He's searching the market right now for a way to tie together those applications.

The opportunity for traditional MSP platform providers seems clear. Companies like Autotask, Kaseya, ConnectWise and many others already offer open APIs (application programming interfaces) that tie together disparate systems. Autotask and OnForce, for instance, recently announced integration work leveraging those open APIs.

Over the next few months and years, I expect those APIs to provide bridges between closed source and open source MSP applications.

Perhaps that's wishful thinking. But I think it's inevitable. MSPs, in some ways, are mavericks. They are breaking free from traditional server-based systems. And they're demanding open connections between their tools.

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