Linux and the Channel: Top Distributions for ResellersBy Steven Vaughan-Nichols | Print
Review: For the vast majority of resellers, Novell and Red Hat should be at the top of their Linux list, but depending on your level of expertise distributors like Ubuntu, rPath, Mandriva, Debian and Gentoo may yet prove to be the right partner for
I was recently contacted by a major Unix reseller with a very simple question: With the writing on the wall for Unix growing bigger and bigger with every quarter, which Linux should the company adopt?
It's a good question, and the answer depends not just on the pluses and minuses of each Linux distribution, its distributor and its channel programs, but what you bring to the table. For example, in the case of the reseller I spoke with, it already had a great deal of in-house Unix and Linux expertise. For that reseller, going with a distribution that had little formal support would work just fine. For a company whose staff had done little more than sell boxes, such a move would be fatal.
Another factor is where and how you plan to deploy Linux. For example, if you want to give the desktop market a try, first you need to decide if you're going to pursue the thin-client business market or give the PC desktop a try.
In the case of the former, you're going to need server expertise and a thin-client hardware partner. If it's the latter, you'll be better off if you're already in the white-box business.
With that in mind, let's see what the Linuxes have to offer the channel today.
The most popular Linux with enthusiasts today is Canonical's Ubuntu. Besides having a big fan base, Canonical has also been making the kind of business partnerships you'll need to get Ubuntu into offices. For example, Canonical recently started offering SugarCRM for users of Ubuntu 6.06 LTS (Long Term Support) edition. Before that, Canonical partnered up with Zmanda, an open-source backup and recovery software vendor, to bring the Zmanda Recovery Manager for MySQL to Ubuntu and LynuxTraining Sàrl to work on creating an Ubuntu certification.
You get the picture. You can go into a customer's business and show them that Ubuntu has serious business hardware and software support. That's the good news.
The bad news is that you're going to need to create your Ubuntu business on your own. Canonical still doesn't have a reseller or formal partner program. So, I can only recommend that you make Ubuntu a major part of your business if you already have, or can get, Linux pros on your staff.
There is only one small company, MEPIS, that produces an Ubuntu-based distribution, SimplyMEPIS, that is reseller-friendly. It specializes in desktop systems. If you were looking to give the Ubuntu Linux desktop a try—and Ubuntu is very popular as a desktop operating system—MEPIS might make a good partner.
Is there any reseller or system integrator who doesn't know Novell? The company may have switched its operating system focus from NetWare to Linux, but its commitment to the channel remains strong.
Channel programs, certifications, sales programs, you name it, Novell's got it. Heck, some of it, such as certifications, Novell invented.
Novell has also been changing its channel program. In November 2006, Novell announced that it now requires Platinum- and Gold-level solution provider partners to specialize in one of four technical areas—Linux, Security and Identity Management, Systems and Resource Management, or Workgroup.
The plan is that by doing this partners can promote their expertise, increase visibility, improve sales opportunities and shorten sales cycles. Partners will benefit from discounted, focused training; marketing campaigns; incentives and rebates; and qualified leads aligned to these specializations that lower their costs and improve their competitiveness. Silver-level solution provider partners don't have to take this road, but they can specialize in Linux.
In addition to its existing partner tracks, Novell is adding two more to its PartnerNet model: Global Strategic Partners, and Distribution and Fulfillment partners. The new PartnerNet Portal is designed to give partners a clear, consolidated view of the partnership, including program membership details and Novell sales-related information. It combines Novell's financial and global opportunity management systems, revenue tracking, integrated reporting, and generation of campaign-driven leads to help partners identify new sales opportunities. Novell also gives you a choice of Linuxes.
For servers, there's SLES (SUSE Linux Enterprise Server) 10 and, for the desktop, there's SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop) 10. Both are very well-regarded Linuxes.
If you're on a tight budget and you already know Linux, you also might consider working with Novell's free community Linux, openSUSE.
Another plus for resellers is that Novell has recently partnered with Microsoft. While this move has been very controversial in some open-source circles, businesses like it. The company's bottom line is that anything that will makes it easier to get Windows and Linux working together is a good thing. I strongly suspect your customers will agree.
Red Hatis easily the most well-known Linux provider.
If you go into any customer's office, the one vendor that's branded into their mind as "Linux" is Red Hat. That makes selling Red Hat's Linuxes, primarily its server line, RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) 4 and the forthcoming RHEL 5, much easier.
Unfortunately for the channel, Red Hat never has gotten a handle on how to work with its partners.
That seems to be changing now that Mark Enzweiler has come aboardas the company's VP of North American Channel Sales. Enzweiler came to Red Hat from Lenovo, where he served as VP of Global Channel Strategy and Sales. The Chinese PC maker's restructuring loss was Red Hat's gain. I'm told by Red Hat partners that Red Hat is now much more responsive to their inquires and requests.
Red Hat now offers a two-tiered channel programfor resellers and integrators. It also has partner plans for OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and ISV (independent software vendors).
Like Novell, Red Hat also has a related community distribution—Fedora. While I could see someone building a business around openSUSE, I can't see that happening with Fedora. Much more so than openSUSE, Fedora is a bleeding-edge distribution. I find it hard to imagine being able to keep a Fedora-based office in service at an affordable rate.
Another would-be Linux reseller player is France-based Mandriva.
Mandriva was, at one time, known best for its popular community-driven Linux. In the last year though, the company has made it clear that it wants to work in the business world. In September 2006, Mandriva released Mandriva Corporate Server 4, its first major business server that's meant to go head to head with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SLES. Early reviewsthough haven't been promising for the distribution.
Mandriva has four partnership levels. At the higher levels—silver and above—Mandriva offers the usual partner goodies: co-marketing collateral materials, technical support and product training opportunities.
Perhaps the most interesting offering Mandriva has for North American channel players is its Intel partnership. If you want to get your feet wet with the Linux desktop, this package, which provides both hardware support from Intel and software support from Mandriva, looks quite interesting. The one-year package provides Intel Channel Members with Mandriva Linux 2006 integration and distribution, volume discount pricing, certification, logos/trademark privileges, and Pass-Thru marketing and sales tools.
If you're not a PC vendor though, and you're interested primarily in the North American markets, it's hard to find a reason to look at Mandriva. However, with its strong ties to both Latin America and Francophone countries, Mandriva does deserve a second look if you market in either Spanish or French-speaking countries.
Debian, Gentoo and rPath
Debian, Gentoo and rPath
Progeny, which builds customized Linuxes around Debian, is living proof that Linux experts can build a business from a community Linux. You really must be a Linux pro and know how to run a business to pull this trick off though. There are few people with that sort of technical andmanagerial expertise. If you're not one of them, I'd skip this path.
Gentoo's strength is that everything in it is customizable since the distribution ships as source code. As you might guess, even more expertise is needed to make commercial, stable products from this approach.
If you like the idea of being able to deliver a customized Linux into users' hands but you don't dream of C++ header files at night, a much better approach might be to partner with rPath.
rPath was founded by ex-senior Red Hat executives. The name of its game is to enable ISVs and system integrators to create customized Linux-based application appliances in a hurry. Using the company's rBuilder software creation tools, you'll be able to make specialized distributions or turnkey hardware systems to address your users' needs in double-quick time. It's an interesting concept and one that anyone who does custom development should look into.
With a great deal of work with virtualization companies like VMware and Virtual Iron, rPath already has a proven track record.
The company is looking for partnersbut doesn't have a formal partner program at this time.
So, which Linux wins?
So, which Linux wins?
So, which company should you work with?
Well, again, consider what you're bringing to the table and what your customers want.
For the vast majority of resellers, Novell and Red Hat, as you would expect, should be at the top of your list.
With some in-house Linux expertise, however, Ubuntu and rPath both look promising.
And, if you really know your Linux and are business-savvy, Mandriva, Debian and Gentoo may yet prove to be the right partner for you.