Red Hat CEO: Establishing Cloud Leadership

From the Road

When you think about the leading cloud computing companies, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst hopes his company springs to mind. In fact, the CEO of the rapidly growing, Raleigh, NC-based open source company is doing everything in his power to ensure that Red Hat has the widest possible portfolio of tools for your private and hybrid cloud. It’s a collection of technologies that Whitehurst says is only rivaled by Microsoft (but without the “walled garden” strategy, of course). I talked with Whitehurst about what IT leaders don’t understand about Red Hat, and how the company is positioned in the rapidly changing enterprise software landscape.

Collaboration Leads to Success

When people think of Linux, they may focus on its lower cost. But that’s not why the majority of world’s stock exchanges—and 80 percent of the Fortune 1000—run Red Hat Linux. The technology, Whitehurst said, is better, too, thanks to collaboration internally and with leading IT companies.

Google, Amazon and Facebook are using open source to build the next generation of cloud computing. “Our job is to catalyze those communities and bring those same technologies that are being written by the largest IT users in the world to our enterprise customers, so they get the same value in their infrastructures,” he said. “We don’t ask our customers to trust that we’re smart enough to know where the future of IT is going. What we ask our customers to believe is that sharing the same technology road map as the largest and most sophisticated IT companies in the world, we’ll probably meet their needs as well.”

Lots of people in the IT industry think they’re visionaries, Whitehurst said, but few of them are. “We just absolutely, positively believe that collaboration leads to better decisions. Every day I come to work and somebody tells me I did this wrong or critiques that or speaks up on some other thing, I actually celebrate it and welcome it. I absolutely believe that we will build better products … not because we’re so great, but because we work with communities of people who are great.”

Competition Comes in Many Forms

Some open source software companies may provide operating systems, but not a full infrastructure stack or as extensive a network of partners providing support for applications. Mainstream IT companies (some of which are Red Hat partners) offer “holistic solutions,” Whitehurst said, but may not make it easy for customers to use technology from multiple vendors.

Microsoft, he said, “has the most pieces” to compete directly with Red Hat, “but when I actually think about who is our largest competitor, it’s VMware. We have a very similar vision for the future of computing from a sense of the technology stack.”

Whitehurst thinks inertia is a big driver of IT decisions. “When something’s running, nobody wants to change it,” he said. “When budgets are so tight people have to try new things, we do well. The other time we do well is when there are true architectural shifts going on, because as soon as you’re going through an architectural shift, you get to reevaluate your technology.”

You Lead by Being Proactive

Customers often think of Red Hat as offering support and services along with free software. But Red Hat isn’t primarily a services and support company, Whitehurst said. It’s a software company, focused on turning open source software into products that enterprises can deploy as they would traditional software. “Open source is a development model. It’s not a productization system,” Whitehurst said. “People may think: Well, I’m just going to download and use some random Linux. But what are you going to do in two years when a new version of that comes out and your application is not going to run?”

The cloud provides a major source of growth for Red Hat. “When [you realize] all clouds but [Microsoft’s] Azure run Linux, it just makes sense that people are going to migrate those workloads to Linux,” Whitehurst said. But enterprises want assurances their applications will run in the cloud. So one current effort involves certifying Red Hat Enterprise Linux with cloud providers. “Most enterprises aren’t going to run an application if it’s not in a certified … hardware/software stack,” Whitehurst said.” We’ve been working with major cloud providers to certify Red Hat on those clouds” Then customers will have flexibility to move their applications among different clouds, whether private or public.

“People assume—cloud, shazam, I have this nirvana,” Whitehust said. “But in all honesty, if you don’t build in those other things so applications can move, so applications are certified and therefore you’ll get technical support from your vendors and all those other things, then cloud doesn’t allow application mobility at all. As a matter of fact, it’s going to be more stovepiped than we were before.”

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