Does Open Source Fit Into a Managed Services Strategy?

Does Open Source Fit Into a Managed Services Strategy?

During a managed services panel discussion at the recent SMB Nation conference in Las Vegas, ClearCenter CEO Michael Proper stood up and asked attendees if open source was part of their managed services framework. One attendee's reply: "What does open source have to do with a managed services conversation?" Let me take a second stab at the discussion: To be sure, most MSPs within the SMB market seem to leverage traditional closed-source solutions. But there are pockets of opportunity for open source. Here's where.

Let's start with the news of the day: OTRS and GroundWork Open Source are partnering to integrate their open source help desk and remote network management software. The result is a "combined enterprise monitoring and two-way ticketing solution. This offering allows IT managers to submit tickets directly to OTRS via GroundWork Monitor and track relevant ticket information," the two companies claim. Both OTRS and GroundWork Open Source have been building followings in the MSP space. We'll be watching to see if their relationship sparks faster growth.

Elsewhere, there are numerous open source-based remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools. But generally speaking, I think most MSPs are sticking with closed-source options because they have a long-term track record of success in the managed services space.

Alternative Options Take Hold

Still, there are anecdotal signs of success for open source in the managed services market. Check in with ClearCenter's Proper, and he'll tell you all about a fast-growing partner program that gives MSPs either white label opportunities or regional franchise opportunities. ClearCenter specializes in open source network, gateway and server solutions. Somewhat similarly, Untangle -- another open source advocate -- has built a healthy following among MSPs seeking firewall software options.

Meanwhile, I'm hearing more and more about MSPs embracing Digium Asterisk, the open source IP PBX. During SMB Nation and the N-able Partner Summit, MSPs specifically mentioned a growing focus on VoIP opportunities. The simple strategy: Sell IP phones (desktop handsets) and link the sale to a hosted VoIP engagement for recurring revenues. In many cases, the deals involve Asterisk, the MSPs said.

There have also been anecdotal wins for Ubuntu Linux within MSPs' virtualized data centers, but I must concede: The Ubuntu market hasn't quite taken off the way I thought it would. One reason: Google Android ... which seems to be popping up on smart phones and new types of computing devices that Ubuntu also targets.

Bottom line: Most of the SMB market grew up running Microsoft-centric solutions. But in certain niches MSPmentor is hearing about highly targeted open source solutions taking hold. On the flip side, MSPs are finding that they need to increasingly manage Linux servers and desktops, which is why most of the major RMM providers are introducing remote support for Linux devices.

Has open source overtaken the managed services market? Certainly not. But look around and you'll see evidence of open source in quite a few niches.

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