Linux Rules SMB Arena

Few technology sectors are showing more innovation right now than the Linux space, especially in the small-to-midisize segment.

December 16, 2003

4 Min Read
Network Computing logo

Few technology sectors are showing more innovation right now than the Linux space. Open-source vendors and developers are creating cool, new products, and Linux solution providers are packaging the solutions and offering value-added services that get the most out of the platform. Boise, Idaho-based EmergeCore Networks is a classic example. What's interesting is that a little more than a year ago, EmergeCore was in dire straits--its enterprise Linux solution simply wasn't selling, and the company was in danger of shutting its doors. The company recruited Dave Brown out of retirement to take over as CEO. Brown had retired a few years earlier after selling AIO Networks, the ISP he had founded.

Long story short, one year later, Brown stood onstage at CMP Media's Tech Innovators XChange conference to receive VARBusiness' Tech Innovators Award for his company's IT in a Box, an all-in-one solution that essentially combines everything a small or midsize business needs to run a Linux-based network system into a form factor that fits inside a briefcase.

To say that VARs are excited about the product would be to damn it with faint praise.

"We first met with EmergeCore last spring, and the product piqued our interest because of its potential to generate revenue right out of the box," says Ray Shah, president of GBD Group, a systems integrator in Ronkonkoma, N.Y.

Since the product debuted in April, GBD Group has become EmergeCore's primary distributor in the Northeast; EmergeCore sells exclusively through the channel. Shah says the product has all the features and simplicity that appeal perfectly to companies in the SMB space."We became a distributor for them, not a VAR, because it has so much potential," Shah says. "It's well-built and well-configured. You can use it to set up your Web site and combine it with firewalls and other network functionality. The advantage of the box is that they've taken away the complexity with their idiot-proof GUI."

SolutionPro is another EmergeCore partner that's reaping benefits from the vendor's innovation. The ISP, Web host and outsourcer, also based in Boise, uses IT in a Box to help customers alleviate the up-front costs of establishing a Web presence.

"The challenge that SMBs face if they want their own server environment is the cost it takes to maintain and administer it," says Murray Owen, SolutionPro's vice president of sales. "Without this, it's a $5,000 to $10,000 initial capital outlay for the necessary hardware and software, and the implementation and other services can cost even more." IT in a Box carries a $1,395 price tag.

VARs and customers, not to mention VARBusiness' editors, have been surprised at how such a robust product can fit into such a small box.

"It's an all-in-one-box to run small businesses that fits into a small footprint no bigger than a 5- or 6-pound notebook," Owen says. "Theoretically, you could put dozens and dozens of users onto one box; the only constraints are the number of available ports."If the product has one drawback, GBD's Shah says, it's that running your network through IT in a Box creates a single point of failure on a network, but even that has its benefits for VARs.

"It creates opportunities to generate additional revenue by mapping out a redundancy strategy and selling support outside the box," he says. "But EmergeCore also is working on things like online backup and restore, so they're right on top of it."

Owen says SolutionPro still uses Microsoft Exchange because of its collaborative calendaring function, but EmergeCore is developing a comparable feature for future editions. "Having calendaring on top of the e-mail functionality will be a killer app for SMBs," he says.

Learning LinuxProducts like IT in a Box and most innovative runners-up IBM's Integrated Platform Express and Novell's Nterprise Linux solutions are helping Linux gain acceptance in mission-critical roles in SMB networks. Owen says features like EmergeCore's easy-to-use GUI demonstrate how much more user-friendly Linux has become.

"Linux still is a little like the difference between pre-Windows DOS and the first Mac OS interface; it's still viewed by some customers as a tool for the tech-literate and not so much for the rest of the world because it's so complex to manage," he says. "But EmergeCore has engineered its product so it never gets too complex and is always easy to manage."And as the open-source platform matures, it's gaining the ability to beat other operating systems on more than just cost.

"It's built from one source-code tree that runs on nine different platforms with more coming, it has attained certification on new security criteria that open the door to sectors like the government, and it has a very broad support community that provides value," says Greg Rosenberg, CTO of Ricis, a Linux systems integrator in Tinley Park, Ill.

Similarly, Shah is always looking for products that can make inroads into new markets.

"Our role is more critical than ever because we're bridging the gap between old platforms and Linux, and we're always looking for an emerging player that can give us a competitive edge," he says.

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights