Outsourcing

Consulting services on free server software: Money to be made.

The current offering of free software titles creates a great opportunity for side business. IT pro Rick Vanover shows a few ways you can earn money on the side with free software.

I don’t know about you, but I truly think that there is an incredible amount of really good software available for totally free today. Sure, there has always been a strong open source software community; but never before have so many of them been available as refined programs that are rock-solid.

While talking with someone recently who was looking for ideas for opportunities for IT side work, the idea of utilizing these free titles dawned on me. The opportunity would be to make a basic service catalog for your ideal client, whether that would be a home user or a small business. Here are a few software titles that can be used to make a great catalog for your prospective clients:

  1. Untangle Appliance:
  2. This Internet appliance is, by far, my favorite, and is a candidate for both the small business and home user. If for no other reason, the web filter and Spyware Blocker applications can be a boon to the small network to protect the browsing experience. Other features such as VPN

  3. VMware ESXi:
  4. The free version of the popular hypervisor, now dubbed VMware vSphere Hypervisor, is a very capable platform; even for the free edition. Most operating systems are supported as guests and other features include using shared storage, thin provisioning, and memory overcommit.

  5. isyVmon Freeware Edition:
  6. This virtual appliance functions as a monitoring platform, including a Nagios installation for up to 10 hosts. This can be a critical tool to page or otherwise alert when a system is unavailable.

  7. VMware vCenter Converter:
  8. This free tools allows administrators to convert physical servers to a virtual machine, including onto the free ESXi hypervisor.

  9. Logmein:
  10. For any scenario, Logmein is a great support mechanism for console access. Primarily because the remote assistance tool always works. This can be a backup for a VPN offering, or a simple solution for mobile systems that may need support wherever they are. For home use, the free product is a great solution. For business use, the commercial offerings should be considered.

  11. Openfiler:
  12. This storage software engine can function as a SAN or NAS resource on commodity hardware that you provide. All major storage protocols are supported, including NFS, iSCSI, fibre channel and CIFS.

There are scores more offerings that you can leverage to provide consulting services as side work. The business plan is simple: learn the products and provide good service to install. The value proposition you can make in this situation is to leverage free software, the client will incur a lesser cost to get to the solution they are seeking.

Do you know of any free products that the everyday IT pro can roll into their fold for a robust consulting business on the side? Share your comments below.

About

Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.

21 comments
tbmay
tbmay

...and esxi Of course, I'm going to work full time for another employer at the beginning of the year. I started this business full time 3 months before the financial scare and I've just flat had a belly full of it. At the end of the day, supporting people who don't want to spend money on technology is hard. They don't want to buy equipment or software. They don't want to pay you for your work. Get used to the idea of collections. I digress though. I don't dig openfiler at all. I tried it. It's too inflexible and if you have to do anything underneath the web interface, you'll break the settings you made in the web interface if you're not careful. You're better off using a traditional distro - rhel, debian...etc...and plug webmin in. I do remote support by setting up vpn's in their businesses. For them and me. I did see one online service I thought was allowing commercial use without pay but I didn't really give it a lot of time.

tarax
tarax

Did I share my business plan somewhere ? ;-)

lifeonmars
lifeonmars

Sorry to be a killjoy but Logmein is only free for home users. For commercial use you are supposed to pay...but i wont tell if you wont!

kama410
kama410

Finally, someone who understands my problems with openfiler! It's OK if you want to do it the 'Openfiler Way', but if you want anything more complex or fine-grained you're out of luck. As for the people that don't want to pay for what they get, maybe you would get more satisfaction by being more selective about your clients. I would far prefer to have a few good clients who are honest than a lot of clients that are a pain to deal with. I was pleasantly surprised by how willing people were to spend money on what they need. But my thoughts on it are that if a client is going to be annoying and difficult to collect a payment from I'm just not going to deal with them. They can find someone else to try to get something for nothing from. I find that you can generally tell when someone is looking for free support.

tarax
tarax

@tbmay If I agree you can't do every/anything with OpenFiler (nor with any appliance I know), for std/average/common environments, I keep thinking it is really a valuable answer. For custom setups and advanced integration, having the management API only available in commercial edition may be a show stoper though. Hope we'll have good news on this point in the upcoming 3.0 release. Finally, I'd say that, AFAIC, appliances aim at tightly integrating many pieces of software following best pratices and being managed through their dedicated UI (web or text). If you come to think about making things by bypassing the UI, then this is may be because you're in such a custom setup that you'd better go the DIY way leveraging your skills (and debian power ;-) ). And if you really want to make custom things on an appliance, the you have to learn the way it works + the way devs did things, I see no problem here. Finally, I'd say that at least you _can_ do it, which is far from being the case with commercial appliances. @b4real Aside of OpenFiler you can have a look at FreeNAS (http://www.freenas.org) for a FreeBSD based solution, or NexentaStor (http://www.nexentastor.org) for an OpenSolaris one (tainted of Debian/Ubuntu mangement :-) ). These two will give you the opportunity to try ZFS easily. Finally, you could also givea shot to Gluster Storage Platform (http://www.gluster.org), maybe for more specific needs. Bests

b4real
b4real

If not openfiler? I'm definitely open to what others use.

kforbus
kforbus

Obviously, I'm sure LMI would prefer you to spend money on their products if you are profiting from their software, but I don't recall ever seeing anything on their website or in their EULA stating that you can't use the free edition in a commercial setting. IANAL and I've been known to miss some obvious things in the past, so I would be interested in seeing where they have this stated.

b4real
b4real

For the home user, the free version is what I am referring to.

b4real
b4real

Thank you, TARAX.

kylehutson
kylehutson

Nexenta Core is based on OpenSolaris. ZFS is about the slickest thing I've run across. ESXi on the frontend with an iSCSI connection to Nexenta on the backend makes for a modularized, easy to upgrade, and very fast servers. ...and of course for a fee, we can duplicate their data to our office for cheap-and-easy offsite backups.

tbmay
tbmay

...currently lenny. I almost always add webmin because the people administering it are usually not IT people. Training and documentation is part of the service. Qualifying edit... Service running depend on their needs. Usually cifs but it has been nfs and iscsi too.

b4real
b4real

But our obligation to use products within the T&C that they are provided to us.

b4real
b4real

But found myself liking openfiler better. To be fair, I need to get a better handle on ZFS. So many people talk about that, and I must be missing something.

tbmay
tbmay

You often can't finish a sentence that started out true but became false before the period.

b4real
b4real

"At least at this point in time I do." That's funny, but right on!

tbmay
tbmay

I agree. At least at this point in time I do.

b4real
b4real

For the people who want to use free software. Basically, if they can afford that type of switch and interface infrastructure, they can afford a commercial storage system.

tbmay
tbmay

I know fcoe is getting some traction and that can certain be run on debian...or really any other distro. So far I haven't had need of it though. Openfiler is fine as long as you have very generic needs. When you have to do something a little different, that's when it starts showing some warts. Frankly, that's been my problem with many pre-canned appliances. Openfiler is not the first one I've had that issue with.

b4real
b4real

Debian can function as a storage resource. Does that include Fibre Channel?

jshelley
jshelley

Can anyone quote the T&C verbiage that prohibits business use for the free version? It's not on their website and I've never seen it anywhere else.

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