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Enterprise distributions and free software

Enterprise distributions and free software

Posted Mar 8, 2011 9:37 UTC (Tue) by michaeljt (subscriber, #39183)
Parent article: Enterprise distributions and free software

I keep hearing that the "selling support for FLOSS" business model is extremely hard to keep profitable, with Redhat always the honourable exception to the rule. It makes me wonder whether a distribution could make its money by cutting its distribution costs to the minimum possible - ruthlessly sticking to unpatched upstream for example - and instead offering customers a more-or-less guaranteed bug fixing service on all software across the distribution. Fixing bugs for a fee is probably too expensive for a small customer, but if an enterprise-size customer notices that a particular bug is affecting the productivity of a lot of employees it would probably be a good investment for them - and if a bug was causing problems for several customers the distribution could further distribute the costs.

Of course providing basic support as well (like answering questions about using the software and perhaps helping the customer to decide which bugs are affecting them badly) would probably still be necessary, and could perhaps be done in a manageable way by selling the support on a "number of support employees available full-time to the customer" basis. Again, out of reach for small customers but probably a good proposition for enterprise-size ones.


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Enterprise distributions and free software

Posted Mar 8, 2011 13:12 UTC (Tue) by Lennie (guest, #49641) [Link]

I think what they are currently doing is creating their own stable-kernel by doing a lot of inhouse testing.

As there is already a stable kernel I'm not sure if creating their own is the solution.

Enterprise distributions and free software

Posted Mar 8, 2011 14:28 UTC (Tue) by michaeljt (subscriber, #39183) [Link]

Actually I was musing about a situation in which distributions precisely would *not* maintain their own forks.

Enterprise distributions and free software

Posted Mar 8, 2011 20:17 UTC (Tue) by Fats (subscriber, #14882) [Link]

Unfortunately I don't see how it could work in our reality.
You have two packages and you fix an interoperability between them for a customer. Neither of the upstream packages wants to accept the patches as they say it is only the other packages fault or are just not interested in interoperability.

What do you do ? If you don't fork it for all your customers you are basically forking for each customer separately. I don't think this is a better way of working.

Enterprise distributions and free software

Posted Mar 8, 2011 15:13 UTC (Tue) by smoogen (subscriber, #97) [Link]

There have been attempts at that but little to no customers. [I am defining "customer" as someone willing to pay money for that work versus someone who will pay test time or patches.]

Customers for the most part want the latest X to work, but don't want anything else to change. And the larger the customer the more they want that lock in for longer times. So there are places still using and paying for 2.4.x kernel (and ancient gcc,perl,python) support but also will pay some consultant to make the latest desktop to work on it.

Enterprise distributions and free software

Posted Mar 8, 2011 15:15 UTC (Tue) by jwarnica (guest, #27492) [Link]

That is closer to the historic model popular in the '80s, say, with companies like Sendmail and the commercial backers of the BSDs. Though, in those cases the support is focused on a very small target.

The issue is that providing tier-1 support to "everything we can cram on a DVD" is that it is basically impossible. While "Gnome" might be a pretty solid box internally, a given snapshot of "Gnome" might only really work with a specific combination of kernels and userspace utilities. Consider the various layers audio, or network configuration, needs to touch. And consider non-Gnome, Gnome apps, like GnuCash for example. It doesn't work with the latest versions of Gnome.

Sure, you can get it to work, but it doesn't "just work". Getting it to work in many cases might take a lifetime of experiences. You can't possibly build up a knowledge base of quick solutions to common problems if you don't make efforts to control the source of the problems. So every tech support call is about actually debugging a problem, rather then giving someone a quick canned answer. So all of your support calls are an hour long (or longer), and require someone with years of experience to handle.

So instead of having a call center filled with people who have a loaded cost of $15/hour, and answer questions in an average of 5 minutes, you need a call center filled with people costing $75/hour, and who take an hour to answer calls. You do the math on how much a subscription to such a service would cost.

It does happen, but they are called consultants, not distributions.

Enterprise distributions and free software

Posted Mar 8, 2011 20:30 UTC (Tue) by xnox (subscriber, #63320) [Link]

> So instead of having a call center filled with people who have a loaded cost of $15/hour, and
> answer questions in an average of 5 minutes, you need a call center filled with people costing
> $75/hour, and who take an hour to answer calls. You do the math on how much a subscription to
> such a service would cost.

Huh? $75/hour? I'm paid way less than that. Our customers do pay $100 and up per hour. /me should look for a better free software job.

Enterprise distributions and free software

Posted Mar 8, 2011 20:48 UTC (Tue) by jwarnica (guest, #27492) [Link]

I said "Costing $75/hour" not "getting paid $75/hour". There is a big difference. Maybe $75 is high. Whatever the number, someone who has actual skills is going to be far more expensive than someone who knows how to read a script.


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