How the Linux Foundation Can Help Channel Partners Gain More Business

As Linux and open source software continue to grow, the channel should be looking at how it can benefit.

Todd R. Weiss

August 23, 2019

4 Min Read
Jim Zemlin at Open Source Summit 2019

(Pictured above: The Linux Foundation’s Jim Zemlin on stage at Open Source Summit North America, Aug. 22.)

LINUX FOUNDATION OPEN SOURCE SUMMIT NORTH AMERICA — Open source software runs much of the infrastructure for corporate IT and the internet around the world, but it’s still a work in progress when it comes to widely supporting the needs of small and medium-size businesses.

That’s likely because SMBs typically don’t have the large and experienced IT staffs to maintain all the things they need for their businesses while also finding time to contribute to, introduce and use open source within their operations.

It’s a conundrum that Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation, sees changing in the future as MSPs, VARs, resellers and other channel partners slowly move to offer more open-source options and services to their SMB customers as they both gain more exposure to the technologies.

Zemlin spoke to Channel Futures here at the Linux Foundation’s 2019 Open Source Summit North America, held in San Diego, and said that the relationship between his group and the channel is still being developed and nurtured.

Since its founding in 2000, the Linux Foundation has been the go-to group for supporting, publicizing and helping to grow Linux and open source as IT powerhouses around the world, but its main corporate participants historically have been large enterprises that have the deep resources and large numbers of developers needed to do the development work on their own.

“The key is that in these huge open-source projects, very few companies – and I am talking about the big hyperscalers and really large companies – support their own open-source software,” said Zemlin.

Instead, most open-source users get infrastructure help from commercial service providers such as Red Hat, SUSE, IBM and others, he said.

“Most [open source users] have a commercial provider who supports, maintains and provides all the commercial indemnification and so forth that you need to do this.”

What that means, Zemlin said, is that since most SMBs don’t have IT staffs big enough to jump into open source quickly and on their own, this creates intriguing opportunities for the channel.

And for partners, that might not be a huge jump in the end because a lot are already reselling and integrating products from the large companies that are well-established in building and promoting open source, he said.

“In many ways open source makes the channel more efficient because user requirements are not given to a sales engineer, who then gives them to a product manager, who then asks the engineering manager, who then tells the engineers who implement the code, who might eventually get it done,” said Zemlin. “They’re just right in there already, giving their requirements directly to developers who are working on this technology.”

So far, about 1,500 technology companies participate on Linux Foundation enterprise open source projects at a corporate level, including more than 35,000 developers, many of whom work for midsize companies, said Zemlin. The Foundation has a wide range of open source projects, including Kubernetes, Automotive Grade Linux, Cloud Foundry, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), Hyperledger and more, and the list is growing at a steady pace.

The growing list of projects and members include a lot of well-known tech names, including Microsoft, Amazon, Google, AT&T, IBM, Intel and Oracle.

“What I think you are seeing – and the CNCF is the best example of this – are a lot of end users now who may not be in there contributing at the same level as the engineers who are creating code in Kubernetes,” but they are getting involved and participating, said Zemlin. “This is an area where I think folks who are SMBs and channel folks would get great value in interacting directly with the people who are sitting in on open-source projects.”

Asked why the Linux Foundation isn’t doing more to go to other large technology conferences and gatherings, like VMworld, Oracle OpenWorld and others, so they can encourage more interest from channel partners, Zemlin said the small size of his staff makes that a challenge.

“We are slowly getting there,” he said.

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About the Author(s)

Todd R. Weiss

Todd R. Weiss is an award-winning technology journalist who covers open source and Linux, cloud service providers, cloud computing, virtualization, containers and microservices, mobile devices, security, enterprise applications, enterprise IT, software development and QA, IoT and more. He has worked previously as a staff writer for Computerworld and, covering a wide variety of IT beats. He spends his spare time working on a book about an unheralded member of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves, watching classic Humphrey Bogart movies and collecting toy taxis from around the world.

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