The one great misperception about open source is that it’s free. In fact, it’s nothing of the sort; open source is an alternative IT ecosystem based on a community of developers working in tandem.

And just because the software is often free at the point of acquisition, it doesn’t follow that it’s completely without cost – businesses taking an open source system still need to develop their own applications and there are costs associated with the migration to freeware. In both cases, this means there are opportunities for channel businesses.

Indeed, with many of today’s most in-demand technologies (such as cloud, virtualization and middleware) increasingly being built on open source, the opportunity for channel organizations is considerable.

As I see it, there are two main areas linked to open source that will prove profitable for channel businesses. The first is around writing the bespoke applications businesses require to get value from their open source infrastructures. Second, as businesses move to freeware significant opportunities will emerge to deliver value-add services, particularly around integration.

Open source is more cost-effective than proprietary systems, but the risks for businesses are also more pronounced. Proprietary systems are, after all, tested fully by the vendor and come with SLAs, warranties and software support – none of which is available on open source. Businesses using open source software are flying solo.

This is where the channel can step in and provide value. Clearly, channel partners that can help their customers mitigate the risks of open source will differentiate their own offerings and position themselves as trusted advisors to their customers.

However, success in open source is not guaranteed. If channel businesses are to make a serious play in this market one thing is essential: having the right skills in place. This means hiring highly-skilled technology and businesses managers who are experts in open source development.

Channel businesses need to be flexible in their approach to hiring and in their working practices. Quite often, open source programmers will not want to work a nine-to-five shift in an office. They will work at times that suit them (often whenever a new idea strikes them) and will demand the flexibility to work wherever they feel most comfortable, whether that is at home or in shared offices with other open source developers.

Success in the IT channel is increasingly being driven by the ability of partners to tailor solutions exactly to their customer needs. For businesses with small amounts of capital, open source offers a great way to put in place an enterprise-class IT system, but they cannot do this alone. Partners that support their customers with integration and application development solutions will quickly build relationships that are unbreakable, securing ongoing business through highly-valued services.