At Synnex National Conference, scores of VARs last week discovered open source business solutions from Digium, Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) and Open-Xchange. Many of those channel partners investigated Asterisk (an IP PBX), unified communications, virtualization and cloud-based email solutions that leverage open source at the core. This certainly is not Synnex's (NYSE: SNX) first move to promote open source business partners. But it may be the most successful effort yet. Here's why.

Synnex in April 2009 launched the Open Source Channel Alliance, which attempted to promote a range of open source ISVs (independent software vendors) to channel partners. At first glance, the alliance didn't really go anywhere. In many cases, the open source market was simply too fragmented with too many small, fledgling software developers; VARs often didn't understand how or why to get started with the ISVs.

But gradually, Synnex and some of its open source partners found their stride. Among the examples:
  • Digium has emerged as a top provide of Asterisk, the open source IP PBX. Earlier this year, Digium began shipping its first desktop handset phones, creating an end-to-end system for unified communications. Sources say Digium's original full-year inventory was sold out within six weeks or so, forcing Digium to expand production of the handsets. Moreover, Digium's SwitchVox is gaining popularity among VARs that sell phone systems.
  • Red Hat has pushed far beyond the Linux market and now promote open source virtualization, storage and middleware solutions. A Red Hat session at Synnex National Conference drew positive reviews, as attendees learned how to monetize open source.
  • Open-Xchange has emerged as an open source alternative to Microsoft Exchange. Instead of pushing into the cloud market directly, Open-Xchange largely depends on third-party SaaS providers, telecom companies and cloud services providers to host its software. Open-Xchange also partners with Synnex CloudSolv, the distributor's cloud empowerment arm for VARs. Trust The VAR Guy when he says the strategy is going well.
Synnex National Conference last week attracted roughly 1,400 attendees -- including a healthy number of VARs. Digium, Red Hat and Open-Xchange generated plenty of foot traffic in the expo hall.

The biggest change of all: Digium, Red Hat and Open-Xchange seemed to promote their business value far more heavily than their open source heritage. Sure, each of the three companies is proud of its open source foundation. But the real conversations at Synnex National Conference involved business value rather than religious debates about programming models.