Getting support for project-based open-source applications often requires a hobbyists enthusiasm to get results. Since the focus of IT managers is on minimizing daily operations costs, having a hobbyist on staff isnt likely to be very appealing.
There is an effort under way to solve this problem. I found findopensourcesupport.com while researching an open-source network management tool called Nagios. The findopensourcesupport site is like a dating service that matches organizations that use open-source software with individuals and businesses that offer consulting and contract support.
When I did a very general search for support providers in any country in North America that provided support by phone, in any price range, I got 167 hits. The simple search request easily let me focus on a particular project, price and supplier (whether individual or business). The search also let me find support options ranging from a person on-site to support offered only via an e-mail list.
Findopensourcesupport makes it easy to narrow the search to a particular open-source application, such as Nagios; or operating system, including nearly every popular version, such as FreeBSD. Although I didnt go through every single project, it looked like most of them had a fair number of support choices.
The ability to get operations support as a paid option with reliable access is an important feature that IT managers should look for when considering open-source tools. This isnt to take away from the support offered in project forums, which can often be fast and of expert quality because the answer is often coming from the same person who authored the code in question.
Its just that for many businesses, there is something to be said for legacy support for a product that has become essential to business operations long after the person who developed the tool has moved on to more interesting developments.
eWEEK Labs Senior Analyst Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at email@example.com.