The beauty of open source is that you can download and install it for free, but once that’s done, it’s not always easy building a working understanding of complex software. That’s where commercial businesses built on top of open source could help.

Open source has a lot of advantages. For starters, there is no upfront cost for the software. Secondly, there is a community that is continually updating it, and is also there to help you over the rough spots. What’s more, open source software enables you to adapt the software to your needs, for example, by adding missing functions without waiting for a vendor to do it for you.

This flexibility comes at a price. Using raw open source code requires you to have a certain level of technical skill, and the ability to manage and patch the software yourself. That is something that tends to be outside the skill set of many SMBs.

Lending a helping hand

As an open source project gains in popularity, founders often build a business based on the project. Typically that could start as a support role for companies, who need some hand holding beyond what the community can offer.

Over time, that business might develop an enterprise product in addition to the extra support. This typically includes some more advanced functions not found in the open source version. It also comes with more advanced security tools that larger businesses demand.

Finally, these companies may offer a SaaS version of the software, which removes the management headaches related to installing, updating, and patching the software. As a managed service, the vendor takes care of that as part of the monthly subscription.

Not all open source companies take this exact trajectory, but these approaches represent the types of business strategies that open source companies can take to build a business on top of the open source project.

Grafana, an open source data analytics stack, is a prime example of this approach. The founders developed Grafana Labs as a commercial company built on top of the open source project with a mission of building community, while developing enterprise and SaaS products for the customers who require it.

The SaaS approach in particular should appeal to MSPs looking for ways to give clients the benefits of using open source products without requiring a deep understanding of running the software. As a managed service, it strips away much of the complexity associated with downloading the open source project yourself, and it puts software much more in reach.

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Photo:  photovibes / Shutterstock.

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Posted by Ron Miller

Ron Miller is a freelance technology reporter and blogger. He is contributing editor at EContent Magazine and enterprise reporter at TechCrunch.

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