25 Mar 2011

Seasoned Support

The major mental hurdle for any business assessing open source software is that of support -  migration support (impact on existing business), user support (familiarity training) and on going support (upgrades/roadmap etc). Such concerns can, and do, offset the most substantial of cost savings, but what’s the actual situation?
Microsoft obviously factors into the mindset and with its 90% market share support is more than available, however it does come at a price. 

I’m not here to knock Microsoft solutions, not at all, their enterprise server platform is superb, although it would be incredibly short sighted given the present global economic climate for any savvy I.T manager to not at least cast an inquiring eye over cost effective alternatives from the perceived “other side”.
Microsoft support skills are ten a penny and the sector is saturated with MCITP’s of varying levels, both experienced and “paper” (non-experienced) however the majority of todays business I.T departments, rather than offering a broad range of computing knowledge and experience, provide no more than “Microsoft Support Services”. A computer is actually quite a capable box of tricks if you don’t choke it with bloated software and there's a whole lot more to the world of computing than the ubiquitous .DOC Word format. Over the years there has been a distinct dumbing down of in-house I.T skills, or should I say a tunnelling into the “Microsoft way”. However ubiquitous as it is Microsoft isn’t I.T, it’s Microsoft, just one option among many.

To highlight the situation take your mid-level car mechanic, he’s well versed and well experienced with vehicular concepts and corresponding fault finding solutions he can apply across the board from a mid 70’s Austin Mini to the latest space-age people carrier. Until electric cars become the norm we will still run combustion engines with pistons, cooling & fuel systems, gearboxes and all the surrounding and supporting gadgetry and electronics, even with hydrogen power cells we’re still going to need wheels and brakes. A seasoned I.T professional operates on a similar level, more than capable of cross platform support whilst a “seasoned” I.T department should be even more so and comprehensively rounded enough to allay any fears and concerns around support of non-MS solutions whilst performing relevant R&D to offer them for consideration to non-technical budget holders.

Aside from lack of confidence with in-house expertise people get jittery around Linux due to misconceptions relating to its source and development. “Open source” conjures up images of community nerds with beards working away in bedrooms across disparate sections of hashed up code to produce Frankenstein-esque applications looking like something from the late 80’s, there’s no doubt such fractions do exist however in 2010 the professional world of open source solutions (aside from product cost) is actually not too dissimilar from it’s corporate flip-side, with certain providers actually providing a more extensive support framework and product roadmap. Let’s take a look at Canonical as one example.

Canonical offer their Ubuntu client & server operating system not only for free but on a regular 6 monthly release cycle with a 2 year window for their LTS products (Long Term Support – 3 years on the desktop & 5 years for server), they provide a range of paid support subscription options alongside an extensive free on-line Wiki & technical documentation portal.
Such vendor support is obviously reassuring and if you choose your version intelligently from one of the big players the ROI can be most lucrative, but as discussed, if you have the right blend of seasoned staff you shouldn’t actually need it…..

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