Yes, you can: make money selling OpenStack
Wanna monetize with OpenStack? Congrats and welcome to the club.
“How do you sell products and services into the OpenStack marketplace?” is a question we get asked all the time. So in this post, I’ve put down some of what we’ve learned – to help you get started, as well as maybe to improve your sales pitch in case you’ve already hit the road.
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Selling OpenStack Solutions
Obviously, there’s more than one way to go after this market, though there are some general principles we’ve refined based on our experience with more than 50 customer engagements across multiple industries. The rising tide lifts the boats that bring the flour to grow the pie with the low hanging fruit and all that, so we thought we’d share some of the things we’ve learned in this blog post. And if there's more you need to know, we're offering a workshop on August 28th in Mountain View.
Who is buying OpenStack?
First and foremost, you need to understand who might become your customer, both today and tomorrow. OpenStack is only 3 years old, but as the project continues to mature, the user base -- and with that your customer base -- is broadening and changing dramatically.
In the beginning, infrastructure vendors were the ones willing to spend the biggest bucks on integrating their gear with OpenStack. Today, the likely suspects are service providers and internet application vendors wanting to differentiate through OpenStack, and typically they have more than average tolerance for risk. Who will be next? Given how fast the market is changing, you might sell to entirely different customers 2-3 years from now - and your customers’ buying patterns may change as well.
Where does OpenStack shine?
OpenStack shines, but not everywhere. To get started, make sure you have a good idea about these 3 attributes about your customers when selling products and services that complement OpenStack:
- How cloud-aware are your prospective customers? If their business relies on distributed, stateless applications where scalability and failover are built into the app - you might be onto something.
- How big is your customer’s cloud going to be? Size *does* matter - the bigger, the better. OpenStack doesn’t pay off for a business that aspires to grow no more than a 4-server cloud. Simple as that.
- Does your customer care about vendor lock-in? This is not a rhetorical question, as they might not care for good reason. If they want to control their cloud infrastructure destiny though, OpenStack is the perfect choice for them.
How does OpenStack compare to other solutions?
You need to know what differentiates OpenStack from its open source peers such as Eucalyptus and CloudStack as well as from proprietary solutions like Amazon AWS and VMware. It’s worth knowing in detail the features of each solution as well as their deployability for various use cases, high availability capabilities, architecture and administration tooling.
There is a ton of material on-line about this, and all four of these IaaS alternatives do a decent job of tooting their own horn with technical substance. Now, in the old days, you could golf your way into a deal; if that’s still your approach, well, hang up your cleats or get a new job. RTFM is a dirty word no longer. You need to get your head and hands on OpenStack and the other IaaS and speak to real technical issues. So if you’ve sold into Linux and custom application development, and/or have people on your team who get this, then you’re on the right track.
How do you overcome common objections?
Although OpenStack is growing enormously in popularity, you have to be prepared to face skepticism. The most common objections can be bucketed into two categories:
- General objections such as concerns about OpenStack’s maturity, ease of installation (or alleged lack of it, to be precise) and
- Technical objections such as: API compatibility with Amazon AWS or Google Compute Engine, certain limitations to storage capacities or OpenStack specific requirements for authentication & authorization.
Needless to say, answering each of those questions might require a separate blog post; in fact, we’ve talked about all of them, and will continue to do so here and elsewhere. But the big point is this: OpenStack is a meritocracy, in which conflicts and strategies are discussed openly and diverse opinions are accepted for the sake of the project’s progress and success. You need to dive into those conversations in order to be able to respond to objections you might face when dealing with customers. And if you (and your customers) wait for maturity, well, it might just be too late.
How do you prepare to sell into an OpenStack cloud?
OK, remember what I said earlier about golfing? Sure, some good sales pros also swing for a mean handicap. But they didn’t get that shiny new car and the tropical vacation by competing with Tiger Woods. They know that at heart, selling is about delivering value to the customer. Some techies don’t get this, but here’s the secret: selling is hard work. So, with that myth set aside:
- First, identify and understand your customer’s requirements: Starting from your customer’s primary use case, to network design, storage needs, availability & performance requirements.
- Consider what customizations are required, including how to handle legacy applications, as well as which ops tools you will need to use.
- When building a BOM (bill of materials), you have to consider two dimensions of your customer’s purchase: 1) requirements vs. costs and 2) hardware constraints and scalability.
What has your experience been with selling OpenStack has been so far? What challenges have you encountered? What have you learned on the go? We forward to hearing about what it's been like for you in the comments below.