Resellers take an interest in Linux

While 1998 was the year of the Linux bandwagon, 1999 is fast becoming the year vendors start delivering on their promises.

This means a steady stream of Linux ports and bundles are coming down the pike, translating into a more potent arsenal of building blocks for value-added resellers -- many of whom are eager to start cranking out freeware-based solutions.

Triggering the biggest waves so far among channel players have been promises of Linux ports from database vendors Oracle and IBM, server vendor Netscape, and groupware vendor Lotus. While the Oracle8 database was ported in October, the other heavyweight software makers are aiming for Linux releases sometime later this year.

A plethora of tier-two vendors have also jumped on the Linux bandwagon, ranging from Corel and its WordPerfect application to Informix and its dynamic server and database. "We're excited about the Linux possibilities that are opening up... We're tired of some of the things we have to put up with using NT servers," said Bob Hinrichs, chief technology officer at ISL, a San Francisco reseller.

So far, ISL - like most resellers and integrators - is limiting its Linux work to internal tinkering. Although the VAR is gung-ho on prospects of the community-developed operating system, they are aiming to strengthen their working knowledge of this platform before packaging it in real-world solutions. "By deploying [Linux] in our internal infrastructure, we get to know it better," says Hinrichs.

Although the number of VARs actively touting Linux solutions is still fairly small, a few bleeding-edge outfits are already relying heavily on this up-and-coming market niche. Chicago systems integrator OnShore, for example, is pushing its firewall and virtual private network solutions on the Linux platform. The key benefit beyond cost savings and the platform's stability, says company president Stelios Valavanis, is the ability to go in and tweak the operating system code to further customise any solution.

One such scenario recently led OnShore programmers to tweak the OS source code while setting up an HTTP proxy program for a client. In a nutshell, the increased customisation helped set parameters on the firewall for accessing the Internet from work, placing increased control in the hands of managers. "The sheer flexibility of Linux is one of the most important traits," says Valavanis.

But what could end up forcing all VARs to take a long, hard look at Linux-based solutions is the tremendous cost advantage it can offer during the bidding process. By pitching a solution on the community OS, which runs between $0 and $50, the VAR can come in several thousand dollars below a Solaris- or NT-based solution. With enough apps ported over to the OS, Linux could quickly become a mainstay in many resellers' repertoires.