Five Things MSPs Can Learn From Open Source

I've spent the past two days at OSCON (Open Source Convention) in Portland, Oregon. There isn't much managed services news here -- or is there? In fact, MSPs can leverage at least five key lessons from the open source movement. Take a look.

1. Disclosure Drives Innovation, according to Ubuntu Linux creator Mark Shuttleworth. What does Shuttleworth mean? Specifically, make sure your platforms are extendable and embeddable. Even if you're not a fan of open source, make sure your MSP platforms have open APIs (application programming interfaces) that all interested parties can embrace.

2. Move to Subscription-based Pricing: Red Hat charges an annual fee for service and support, and must therefore earn a customers' business each year. The subscription-based approach, similar to MSP recurring revenue, provides steady revenue streams -- assuming customers are impressed and willing to stick with your services each year.

3. Open Approaches Speed Time to Market: In the 1990s, companies ran to Linux and x86 architectures to build dot-com sites and online businesses, noted Shuttleworth. And the most successful, fastest-moving Web companies (eBay, Google) leverage open source architectures to beat competitors to market, he added.

4. Go Global Through Partners: In the traditional software industry, most software companies (Microsoft, Oracle, etc.) have to re-write or at least tweak their applications to reflect local languages and business customs across the globe. In the open source world, partners (such as independent programmers) often localize applications on their own, and often contribute that code back to the open source project. That approach speeds time to market across the world, lowers R&D costs, and eliminates the cultural nuances that often impede business expansion.

5. Don't Emulate Rivals, Leapfrog Them: Canonical's Shuttleworth is calling on the desktop Linux industry to polish Linux and make it a "piece of art" that leapfrogs Apple within two years. That's a bold call to action -- and I doubt the Linux industry can fulfill Shuttleworth's goal, because Steve Jobs never stands still. However, Shuttleworth's statement is essentially a "stretch goal" or a "moon shot" statement that provides long-term motivation and vision. Every MSP should have its own stretch goals.

Parting thought: I came to OSCON because MSPmentor has a sister site focused on Ubuntu Linux (see Although OSCON doesn't have any major managed services announcements, you can spot open source's influence across the MSP industry.

Most MSP platform providers are leveraging open source to build Web 2.0 communities or even to write their platforms. And the vast majority of platform providers are extending their systems to remotely monitor and manage Linux desktops and mobile devices.

I'm not suggesting that open source is always better than closed source. A hybrid approach -- mixing and matching the best of both worlds -- makes a lot of sense.

TAGS: Growth
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