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Bringing Linux to Small Business

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October 12, 2009, 10:35 am

We are all impressed and excited by the success of commercial Linux vendors. Red Hat, Novell, Canonical, Mandriva, Oracle, and a host of other Linux companies are making great strides in delivering performance and value to the enterprise marketplace.

But let's face it, small- to medium-sized businessed are still underserved by Linux and free/open source software. This is a real concern, since SMBs could use the cost savings in licensing and stability more than any business group, particularly in these harsh economic environment. SMB owners try to save as much money as they can, just like enterprises. So why aren't they buying open source in droves?

The problem has been a numbers game: targeting the enterprise is a lot easier than the SMBs. There are only an estimated 51,100 enterprise-level companies worldwide, based on 2004 US Bureau of Census data of companies. Because of their sheer size, they tend to be easy to find. It's estimated that there are 25.3 million smaller businesses in the world. How many SMBs are within a five-mile radius of you right now? Even if you are in the suburbs, there's a lot of home-based businesses in your neighborhood.

This has been noted before. In 2005, Samba guru John Terpstra wrote a detailed analysis about the challenges of bringing Linux to the SMB space. The numbers are a bit stale (though I used his methodology to update the gloabl numbers above), but the scope is basically the same: for every enterprise-level business in the world, there's almost 500 SMBs--and that's likely a conservative estimate, given the burgeoning economies in the BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

So what has been done about this problem? We've seen some nods towards this channel from Novell and Red Hat, but the sheer challenge of creating such a broad sales channel to SMBs has held these and other vendors back while Microsoft continues to take advantage of its OEM relationships to essentially coast into the SMB space.

To sell to the more diverse SMB market, there were three primary ways to do it: direct, value-added resellers (VARs), and franchise arrangements. Emphasis on were, because now the cloud may allow on innovative Linux firm to quickly and painlessly integrate into SMBs' IT infrastructure.

If you've had any interest in Linux for SMB platforms, then you've likely heard of ClarkConnect, a Red Hat-based server and gateway solution for SMBs that uses remote management and a strong array of FOSS tools to provide Web, print, file, and mail services for SMBs on a subscription-based model. But ClarkConnect is a name from the past: it's been integrated with some CentOS tools and re-named ClearOS. More interestingly, it's now being stewarded by an entity known as ClearFoundation.

ClearFoundation's mission statement is pretty straightforward: "ClearFoundation is an Incorporated Society dedicated to the vision that every small organization and distributed IT environment on the globe deserves proper security, filtration, and management tools. Internet access is the great equalizer in economics, but each network requires security and management. ClearFoundation is dedicated to providing essential tools to everyone that might need it."

The idea behind ClearOS is to capitalize on existing cloud services and the infrastructure to provide new specialized services, like ClearCenter, a software management and updating tool that provides a variety of products, new features, third-party software and, technical and platform services. It's much like ClarkConnect's toolset, except there's a lot more use of cloud technology and ClearFoundation is dedicated to keeping ClearOS as open as possible to foster a broader network of partners and developers.

Given his passion for bringing Linux into the SMB space, it's little surprise to see Terpstra at the helm of this group, as President of ClearFoundation. He's tossing a lot of expertise into the ClearOS mix, both technical with his knowledge of Samba and other technologies and political with his sense of open-source savvy.

ClearOS has an excellent chance to finally provide the security, stability, and cost-savings of Linux and other FOSS software to the SMB space.

 

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