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One of the ironies of the channel these days is that many of the data centers and network operations centers (NOCs) built by solution providers are based on open source technologies. Almost invariably, these platforms are being used to support commercial software and systems that have been deployed at any number of customer locations.

That may sound a bit hypocritical. But in truth it just reflects an economic reality. Many solution providers have plenty of expertise available to them. What they are often short on is funding. When faced with the choice of throwing labor at a solution versus parting with cash to acquire commercial technologies, the decision is almost always to “sweat” the labor investment.

But what many solution providers are discovering is that many customers have the same idea. The popularity of open source technologies is rising at all level of the enterprise. That’s creates a problem for solution providers in that demand for open source expertise is now at a premium.

A recent survey of 2,000 hiring managers conducted by The Linux Foundation and the IT career site Dice found that 81 percent of survey respondents said that hiring Linux talent is a priority in 2012. Close to half of said they would be adding more Linux professionals to their firms in early 2012 and 63 percent confirmed that the hiring of people with Linux skills is increasing relative to jobs created in other skill areas. It may not come as a surprise to learn that 85 percent of those surveyed reported having difficulty finding qualified Linux professionals to fill these positions.

According to Jim Zemlin, executive director at The Linux Foundation, this shortage of open source talent seems to be particularly acute in areas having to do with application development. Naturally, this issue isn’t just that traditional enterprise IT organizations have discovered open source. Some of the biggest companies in world, including Google and Facebook, are essentially built almost completely on top of open source technologies. This creates a demand for open source IT talent that makes it very hard for the average solution provider in the channel to compete against.

Of course, solution providers can invest in training their own open source talent. But that’s roughly the equivalent of a small market sports team investing in a farm team only to see its best players get wooed away by teams with much deeper pockets.

None of this means that solution providers are going to embrace commercial software. That’s still a prohibitively more expensive approach for most solution providers But it does means that solution providers are going to need to concentrate on providing their most cherished IT talent with quality of life perks they can’t find elsewhere. In some cases that will mean providing them with intellectually challenging IT projects, while in other instances it may be the cost of living benefits that come with making a nice salary in a town where the cost of living is low.

Whatever the carrot being provided people with the right IT skills sets are always in short supply, which means solution providers in the channel need to get really creative if they hope to attract and hold on to IT talent. As owners of most any sports organizations will tell you, if you want to compete there really is no substitute for hiring real talent.