Red Hat CEO: Cloud Can't Exist Without Open Source

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst (pictured) says open source can exist without cloud computing, but cloud computing can't exist without open source. Whitehurst shared that nugget -- and about a dozen other thoughts -- during an interview with The VAR Guy at Red Hat Partner Summit in Boston. Here's a recap of the conversation and a look at where Red Hat is heading next.

For the sake of fast blogging, all of the nuggets below are paraphrased. But the bullet points and FastChat video capture the essence of Whitehurst's thoughts. Here we go...

Among the thoughts Whitehurst shared...

1. Old IT models don't scale: Twenty years ago, your best IT experience was at work. Now, the best IT experience occurs in the home and it's often absolutely free, thanks to services like Google, FaceBook and Twitter, Whitehurst says. As a result, CIOs and partners need to adjust their mindsets. Which brings us to point two...

2. Don't sell functionality: CIOs don't want features and functions. They've got enough of those. Instead, they want employees to "use what they want, when they want to" with subscription type payment models, Whitehurst says.

3. More Thank Linux: Red Hat has the benefit of being the Kleenex brand of Linux, Whitehurst asserts. But Whitehurst wants partners and customers to remember that Red Hat has a broader product portfolio that features JBoss middleware and virtualization. He views Red Hat as an open architecture company, allowing customers and partners to mix and match Red Hat components with third-party software.

4. Red Hat vs. VMware: Some critics allege that Red Hat's virtualization strategy is purely based on price benefits vs. VMware. But Whitehurst sees the strategy differently. On a performance front, Whitehurst says Red hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) beats VMware. But when it comes to management tools, Whitehurst concedes Red Hat is in catch-up mode.

Still, Whitehurst compares today's Red Hat vs. VMware to the old Red Hat vs. Sun Solaris war. Initially, Red Hat beat Solaris on price. But over time, Red Hat's Linux story gradually gained more and more management capabilities. The same trend will repeat itself with RHEV vs. VMware, Whitehurst assets.

5. On Acquisition Rumors: Two sources tell The VAR Guy that Red Hat may be looking to acquire Groundwork Open Source. Whitehurst says Red Hat doesn't comment on rumors. But he says Red Hat has ongoing business relationships with Groundwork and other systems management companies.

6. On A Rumored Business Intelligence Strategy: Reports in 2009 suggested that Red Hat was going to make deeper moves into the BI market. Whitehurst confirmed that Red Hat still has an investment in Jaspersoft, though Whitehurst says Red Hat also maintains close relationships with Pentaho and SAP, among other BI specialists.

7. On Red Hat in Small Businesses: Cloud computing represents Red Hat's doorway into small businesses, Whitehurst says. He added that 90 percent of today's clouds leverage Red Hat's software.

8. On the Cloud Potentially Stealing Open Source's Thunder: Whitehurst said that wasn't the case. Pointing to Amazon Web Services and Google, Whitehurst asserted that the cloud can't exist without open source. Of the major cloud strategies, only Windows Azure seems to be closed source, Whitehurst added.

9. On the database market: Red Hat will continue to work closely with a range of database partners rather than betting on one database, Whitehurst said. The reason: Databases are not commodities. No single database, he added, does everything great. In terms of raw numbers, Red Hat's biggest database partner is Oracle. But Red Hat will continue to work closely with IBM DB2, Enterprise DB, Ingres, MySQL (now owned by Oracle) and other options, he added.

10. On emerging market opportunities: In recent quarters, oil and gas customers have increasingly landed on Red Hat's top customer lists.

11. On Red Hat and the desktop Linux market: Red Hat will make "some" but "not a lot" of effort in the desktop market. Whitehurst says he wishes "Ubuntu all the luck in the world but I don't know why anyone would pay for desktop Linux. The demand is there but how do you monetize it?"

Red Hat will continue to develop and promote its desktop Linux offering, but the far greater priority for Red Hat is a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) push, Whitehurst said.

Next Moves

Red Hat is set to announce quarterly results tonight (June 23). The VAR Guy will be listening for more clues about the company's business performance and strategy.

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Discuss this Video 1

Jim O'Neil (not verified)
on Jun 23, 2010
I'll start off with a disclaimer :) I do work for Microsoft, as an evangelist of our cloud and various other development technologies, but regardless, the statement that "cloud can't exist without open source" strikes me as hyperbole, and given all of Microsoft's cloud assets, well, obviously disproved. The follow up that only Windows Azure seems to be closed source seems rather disingenous too. Perhaps Whitehurst is just equating Open Source with Linux, and since the Windows OS is not Open Source, he's writing off the entire platform? That seems a tad shortsighted. Granted Windows Azure (built on the Windows Server 2008 OS) is not Open Source, but Azure is a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, just like Google App Engine, just like In PaaS the platform is provided for you, so the fact that the platform is open-source based is of no real consequence since you can only build upon it; it's the 'given' in the equation, and if it weren't, then you'd be dealing with infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS). In IaaS (Amazon being the poster-child) the story is indeed different since you can build your own VMs, and there you might introduce specific patches and tweaks to your own VM...BUT PaaS is there to insulate you from all of the infrastructure management, and a great number of people looking at the cloud want to simplify their IT needs (not just 'remote' them) and others (read: startups) want to completely elminate worrying about the platform and concentrate on their unique business value. It's a great story on paper to have ultimate control over the OS, but is that what a majority of the businesses want from the cloud? Questionable. Is that what PaaS customers want from the cloud? Definitely not. There's also an implication in the statement "closed source" that makes it sound like Windows Azure will run only Microsoft technologies, and that's definitely not the case. In fact, in this regard, Azure is the most open of the cloud vendors, by virtue of the fact it supports not only native Windows code and .NET but also PHP, Ruby, Python, the JVM and essentially anything else you can run on Windows. For sake of example, Dominos used Azure for a cloudbursting scenario - their application is based on Tomcat; WordPress runs on Azure; MySQL runs on Azure. Azure storage protocols are REST and Atom based (open web standards), and even the local 'development fabric' supports other languages and IDEs, namely Eclipse. As far as a PaaS offering goes today, Windows Azure is the most open platform out there.
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