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When most people think about open source, the first thing that naturally comes to mind is Linux and then maybe the Apache Web server project.

But all across the landscape, there are a number of less-ambitious, open-source efforts under way that hold a lot of promise for solution providers looking to shore up their profitability.

One class that is beginning to get plenty of attention is all the work being done around the Asterik voice over IP telephony project that is now being packaged for commercial use by companies such as Digium. The Digium offering is an appliance based on a Linux distribution created by rPath that has already received a number of positive reviews in terms of its ability to compete with proprietary offerings from Avaya and Cisco.

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One solution-provider partner of Digium that is already deploying the product is NeoPhonetics, which is able to offer customers a much lower cost per seat VOIP solution that is ultimately more profitable for them because they don’t have to share licensing revenue with a proprietary software vendor. Instead, they undercut the pricing of rivals while keeping the bulk of the licensing revenue for themselves. Even better, there are no monthly quota goals to say in the Digium program, which in turn is trying to make money by selling its professional-consulting services through partners such as NeoPhonetics.

Perhaps less well known but equally indicative of a trend is the launch this week of the Cobia Unified Network Platform from StillSecure. The Cobia software provides a complete network operating system environment that includes dynamic and static routing, firewall and DHCP support today. In the future, StillSecure expects to add support for intrusion prevention, wireless and virtual private networking. The whole Cobia concept is based around free downloadable software that can be deployed on any Intel or AMD server system that allows solution providers to create a network in a box experience for their customers that is easy to set up and deploy.

What’s even potentially more compelling is that these open-source products also create an opportunity for solution providers to create a managed service around the technology that provides a source of recurring revenue for the solution provider. Granted, these open-source solutions put a little more pressure on the engineering talent within the solution provider but that investment is going to pay off. Instead of doing 80 percent of the work and only being able to keep 20 percent of the revenue (as when using proprietary software), open-source products allow solution providers to do 100 percent of the work and keep 90 percent of the revenue.

In general, resistance among customers to open source solutions is dropping rapidly due to the ongoing success of Linux and Apache, which have proven that an open-source approach to core infrastructure software can work. The only question is how much of that product model can be applied to other core infrastructure technologies such as VOIP, networking and security. While the jury is still out on the question, the one thing that is certain is that solution providers should prepare themselves now for the fact that open-source technologies will be taking an increasingly larger percentage of the overall market going forward.