How to offer the Linux option to IT consulting clients

Jack Wallen shares tips on how to pitch Linux to clients. He also explains how convincing a client to go with Linux can have long-term benefits for your consultancy.

I work for a consulting firm that is almost completely a Windows shop. That's fine, because Windows (as fallible as it is) pays the bills. But even though Windows is the primary player, it doesn't mean that Linux should be left out of the game. In fact, it would behoove all consulting agencies to pick up an employee with Linux skills. Why? Because being able to offer Linux gives you an edge over your competition.

How to sell clients on Linux

In such a Windows-centric world, pitching Linux to clients who are not tech savvy is not as hard as you might think -- you just have to know the product and know where (and how) the product fits into the client's infrastructure. Here are some examples.

A client (an SMB with 25-50 users) comes to you with the following needs:

  • Desktop for each user
  • Networking infrastructure
  • Server for email
  • Server for Web
  • Server for storage

The client states up-front that keeping the price as low as possible is key. Although this client may not be a cash cow for you, you know they are connected to a plethora of other possible clients, so you want to do as much for them as you can. Here's how you can break this down to save them money, keep their systems up and running (with little maintenance), and ensure they refer you to their peers.

  • Desktops: You will want to keep these machines on Windows; you don't want to add Linux into the mix in such a way that will confuse the client's employees.
  • Networking infrastructure: This could be a grab bag of any hardware you want.
  • Servers: You could go the Windows SBS route, but then you will have to deal with CALS and maintenance, which will raise the cost. Instead, this is where you can deploy Linux. You can either run all three systems on one machine (using a LAMP server with the inclusion of Postfix for email, ClamAV for antivirus, and rsync for storage). That server machine is going to run like a champ, costing the owner next to nothing in maintenance fees. So the client will save the cost of the OS and the CALS, as well as the cost of maintenance calls to effectively keep the server up and running.
However, let's say that you have a client who shows an interest in Linux as a desktop environment, but he is concerned about that one application he must use that only has a Windows version. The client likes the idea of the stability and reliability of Linux, so he wants his employees using that desktop, but there is still that one application. What do you do? Virtual machines. This is a selling point that many consultants overlook. With the help of VirtualBox, your clients can run (with only the cost of the Windows license) that one application within a virtual instance of Windows on top of a Linux OS. To sell this approach, you should outline the following benefits:
  • The stability and reliability of the Linux OS.
  • Running the Windows application in a virtual machine means that, should something get corrupted (or break in any way) within the Windows virtual machine, the user can simply close that instance and open a previously saved, working, state.
  • The virtual machine could be served up from the Linux server so that any user would have access. This doesn't mean everyone can be running the same image at once, but it would make deploying an image easy (e.g., copy the image from one virtual machine to another).

Let clients try Linux

If a client wants to play around with Linux to see if it will fit their needs, a really good approach is to give the client a Live CD of a distribution and tell them to boot it up. The Live instance will not change their current OS, and they could get easily get an idea if Linux will work. You can take this one step further by rolling your own Live CD (with a tool such as SUSE Studio) and adding your branding to the desktop, as well as to applications you think the client will want and/or need.

See long-term benefits

There are so many ways to sell Linux to your clients. The biggest selling point is the reliability of the operating system. Will you make a lot of money using Linux? Not directly. But the customers you satisfy will keep coming back and send new clients your way.

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By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....