For 46% of the enterprise companies in a Forrester Research 2003 study, "lack of support" was the biggest concern in using Linux and open source software (Forrester Research, The Linux Tipping Point, March 2003). That concern is quickly fading, in part because companies now better understand the open source development model and how to find the wealth of online support that is accessible. In addition, the amount of commercial or vendor support that is now available, even since the Forrester research was conducted, is significantly higher.
The open source community provides support in several ways, including documentation, FAQs, bug reports, webrings, mailing lists, and more. For example, if you examine the Apache HTTP server website for support resources, you’ll find the following:
Documentation—Apache documentation is complete for multiple versions of Apache, including sections for release notes, a reference manual, a users’ guide, how to/tutorials, and platform-specific information. Documentation is localized in 13 different languages.
FAQs—The frequently asked questions section is comprehensive, with answers to over 100 questions in sections such as configuration, features, error messages, and authentication.
Bug reports—Apache uses Bugzilla, a comprehensive online bug reporting and tracking database. You can search the database for specific support problems, enter new bug reports, or get bug summary reports for specific packages.
Mailing lists—Something you’re not likely to get from any proprietary software developer, unless you are an official beta customer, is constant updates on software development. You can join multiple mailing lists that keep you current on new announcements, support discussions, bugs, source change reports, testing results, and more. Depending on your desired level of interest, you can be intimately involved with the status of a particular issue.
Webrings—A webring is a community of related websites that are linked together with navigation aids that make it easy to find relevant information from different sites. For example, the Apache Tools webring pulls together over 800 Apache tools for installation, portal creation, log analysis, search tools, and others.
Product download—Of course, you always have access to product code, whether it be the latest version of development code or any version of production code. Open source software means open access to what you need, when you need it.
Discussion logs—A wealth of support information is contained in discussion logs. With enough eyeballs viewing the code and discussing it online, most problems have already surfaced, and either a workaround or fix is on its way and information about it is online.
Training—Most open source projects include training sections that consist of everything from beginner tutorials to advanced configuration HOWTOs. The spirit of "give back" that is integral to the open source movement tends to sharing of knowledge as well as code. In addition, quality Linux training programs are quickly emerging to satisfy the demand for Linux professionals. As mentioned previously, O’Reilly Media has a full selection of books, training, and conferences.
The support resources mentioned here for Apache are fairly typical of all major open source projects. In fact, many of them use the same open source web applications for discussion groups, bug reporting, and mailing lists. In reality, the support process for open source software is not much different than company-based proprietary software, except for the fact that everything is open and available. Proponents of open source methods claim that as soon as the support methods and sources are understood, it’s easier and faster to get support than from many established commercial support organizations.
That said, there is still ample need for commercial support. Many IT organizations are more than willing to pay for the security and knowledge that when they pick up the phone for help, there will be a skilled, intelligible professional available on the other end. The success of companies such as SUSE and Red Hat, which have built their businesses around consulting and support, are proof that the demand exists. Organizations that demand five 9s (99.999%) of reliability absolutely must have quality support, even onsite if need be, and that type of support for open source is now available from companies such as Novell.
Open source support is being supplied by a number of leading ISVs (independent software vendors) and OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), including Oracle, BMC, Red Hat, IBM, HP, and others. HP provides multiple levels of training on Linux from simple administration to advanced driver development. Hardware and software products from these industry leaders that include open source solutions are covered by enterprise-class support agreements. Support is just one element of a solution that these companies include as part of a total package solution.
In addition, hundreds of small integrators have emerged that provide support and development services for open source software. A quick search of http://www.findopensourcesupport.com yields over 150 providers that supply open source services.
Novell sees the open source support need as a primary opportunity to supply customers with the service and support that they require. The sweeping momentum of open source has created a support vacuum of sorts, and no global software services company is in a better position to fill this need than Novell. Novell was a pioneer in the creation of technical support models from the beginning of networking software in the early 1990s. As a result, the Novell support infrastructure that was created to support networking installations in the largest companies around the world is now focused on open source—and focused with intensity.
Novell can contribute significantly to the support requirements of companies adopting open source in three main categories: technical support at multiple levels, training and education, and consulting:
Technical support—A full description of Novell’s support offerings is beyond the scope of this book, but to summarize, nine categories of free support are available from the Novell website, including an extensive knowledgebase, documentation, and product updates. The Novell knowledgebase is comprehensive with searches by products and categories of help documents.
Twelve categories of paid support include everything from per incident telephone support to premium support that includes priority access to expert resources 24x7x365 onsite. Support can be included as part of a product purchase price, on a subscription basis or as part of a corporate license agreement. Novell support is very flexible and designed to accommodate the needs of any organization. Novell maintains support centers in seven different locations around the world, and can service support needs in any time zone and in many languages.
Where Novell contributes to (and accelerates) the open source adoption is that open source solutions distributed by Novell are now backed by world-class support. SUSE Linux, Apache, MySQL, JBoss, RSync, Samba, and other solutions are eligible for any of the currently offered levels of technical support available from Novell. Free support with knowledgebase and discussion group content, per incident support calls, or premium support services all cover open source solutions distributed by Novell. Check out what Novell can provide at http://support.novell.com.
Training and education—Novell is also a recognized innovator in the areas of training and certification with the establishment of the Certified Network Novell Engineer (CNE) and Certified Novell Administrator (CNA) credentials in the 1990s. Hundreds of thousands have been trained through Novell certified training programs and courses. Novell has expanded the training certifications to include open source and now provides the Certified Linux Professional and Certified Linux Engineer programs. These certifications continue the tradition of high-quality Novell education and provide technical professionals with credentials that are widely sought after for implementing state-of-the-art open source solutions. Training courses are available online, as are self-study kits. Training is available onsite or at hundreds of locations through certified training partners and academic institutions. Find more on training and education at http://www.novell.com/training.
Consulting—Many organizations find outsourcing a simple and cost-effective method for solution development. The Novell Consulting organization contains a rich history of practical expertise gained through years of experience from the Novell consulting group and Cambridge Technology Partners, a strategic IT management and consulting company acquired by Novell in 2001. Novell’s Linux and open source consulting experts work with companies to help them leverage existing infrastructure investments, support business goals, and provide for future expansion using open source. Novell uses a proven, comprehensive approach to identify and implement solutions for key business problems that help achieve tangible results and realize return on investment in a short time frame. Details on consulting services are located at http://www.novell.com/consulting.
Finally, Novell support is augmented, amplified, and widely distributed through an extensive world network of Novell channel partners. More than 4,200 globally distributed Novell partners provide services from product sales, to technical support, to integration and setup, to custom development, and more. You can browse to find a Novell support partner at http://www.novell.com/partnerlocator/.
Is Linux support now available? Absolutely! And not just from Novell. Most of the support services just mentioned are also available from leading OEMs and ISVs providing open source solutions. Service, support, and training for open source is of high quality, relevant, and significantly helps to promote open source in the industry. Novell is in a strategic position to promote open source and especially Linux with its SUSE Linux expertise and the position of Linux as a basis for network and application services. The closely related NetWare experience is easily leveraged to further open source in IT organizations around the world.