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EOS Interview — Taking a Solutions Approach

Interview with Collax' Paula Hunter

Paula Hunter is an industry veteran who has an extensive background in Linux and open source. She was tapped in May of this year to lead the U.S. marketing efforts for Collax (www.collax.com), a Linux distribution aimed at addressing the needs of the small and medium business. Collax is set to expand on their European success in the U.S. this summer offering a solution that could rival more traditional offerings like Microsoft Small Business Server.

EOSM: First Paula - catch us up on you, where you've been, how you landed with Collax.

Paula Hunter: When I left UnitedLinux, I started working with the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) - as you know, the leading advocate for Linux. I am very proud of the work done at OSDL to drive adoption of Linux in the enterprise. The time is right to drive Linux into a new market segment - small and medium-sized businesses - so Collax was a perfect transition for me. Collax was created by a strong engineering organization, has had phenomenal success in Europe to-date, and I believe will be very well received here in the U.S. I am also happy to be working again with our CTO, Boris Nalbach; I have great respect for his work at SUSE.

EOSM: What is Collax? What are you trying to do?

PH: We believe that Linux and open source software can offer significant cost-of-ownership savings to small and medium businesses when packaged and delivered properly. In developing the Collax Business Server, a top priority was to simplify Linux while retaining all of the benefits (speed of innovation, cost savings, scalability, etc.). We wanted to make it easy for the channel and the SMB end user to deploy Linux, without having to invest in incremental staff and training. By taking a solutions approach, we take the guesswork out of pulling together the necessary components to deploy effective security, networking, and communications systems. Collax offers an easy-to-deploy, multi-function solution that can handle high-level security services, complex routing, and networking and generic server tasks, which all take advantage of the latest innovations in open source software. We are delivering Linux and open source software with an easy-to-use graphical user interface for installation, updates, and maintenance that just lets business owners focus on getting their work done.

EOSM: Why now? Why do you think SMBs are ready to adopt open source?

PH: Over the past several years, the large enterprise has been the leading adopter of Linux in the IT market. During this early phase, there was confusion about open source software (OSS) and the various business models that emerged. We are now at a maturation point with Linux and OSS where ISVs and channel partners understand that there is tremendous opportunity, and that the technology and business models are hardened. Add to that the fact that the channel is always looking for new ways to differentiate and deliver value to its customers.

These two players (the channel, and ISVs) were the necessary ingredients for a successful move into the SMB market. This places Collax in an excellent position to capitalize on this new wave of opportunity.

As for the end users, they really don't care much about operating systems; they want best-of-breed solutions that can be managed cost effectively. They care that it's coming from a trusted partner and want something that is affordable, and secure with no (or little) downtime. Customers will rely on their reseller to make the best choices for them, and we believe that choice will be Collax.

EOSM: What about Red Hat/Novell, even Xandros? Can't someone else build this?

PH: Red Hat and Novell have a basic challenge in addressing the SMB market: they have already chosen the enterprise as the focus of their development. Large companies that have embraced Linux are looking for a broad set of options and features, and have the IT resources to deploy complex solutions. It would be very difficult for a small business, or even their reseller, to deploy a Linux distribution that was designed for the enterprise market. The expertise does not exist today, and, frankly, the offerings are more than a small business needs. For a reseller to consider switching from an already complex Microsoft offering (SBS), it has to be simple. As for Xandros, I have a lot of respect for what they are doing on the desktop. The user interface is so important and is arguably the biggest hurdle for Linux to succeed on the desktop. That said, I don't believe VARs are looking for an SBS clone. Anyone who has installed several of the necessary components related to SBS would tell you that the experience is frustrating. Why would anyone want to emulate that? We want to focus on simplicity.

EOSM: Are you concerned about yet another distro? How will SMBs manage/integrate different distros?

PH: In one sense, we don't even view ourselves as a distribution. We are offering a turn-key server solution rather than a set of components (that the customer has to decide which ones to deploy). We are buffering the end user from what would be a very different experience for them if they had to touch a Linux distribution. Our graphical user interface is the key element that allows a small business to deploy Linux, without building up Linux expertise.

I think another server solution is essential to the success of Linux in the SMB space, for the reasons I stated (why existing distros have challenges in this segment). As for managing and integrating the server, the majority of deployments will be implemented by a trusted partner (VAR, systems integrator). That partner is likely to choose one distro, and our belief is that they will look for the solution that deploys cost-effectively and is easy to manage. Most channel partners want to make money on services, but they want to push the cost of delivering those services down.

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

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