Red Hat's Jim Whitehurst: The Challenges of Competing with Free

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2008-09-08 Print this article Print

Red Hat's CEO discusses the company's expansion to new platforms and markets, and the challenges around building solid business models for products that can be obtained for free.

Red Hat, which bills itself as the world's leading open-source solutions provider, has managed to make free software pay by gathering, extending and packaging Linux and complementary open-source components into certified and supported products that are ready for enterprise consumption.

As the focus of IT attention shifts to new platforms, including virtualized environments, Red Hat has turned to an IT industry newcomer, former Delta Airlines Chief Operating Officer Jim Whitehurst, to guide the open-source leader.

eWEEK Labs Executive Editor Jason Brooks recently spoke with Whitehurst, now president and CEO of Red Hat, to discuss the company's expansion to new platforms and markets, and the challenges around building solid business models for products that can be obtained for free.

It seems like in the last couple of months there's been a real uptick in the announcements and releases that have been coming out of Red Hat.

Yes, actually, we'll deliver more new products this year than in any year in our history. It's really a lot around our cloud and grid computing strategy. There's management, there's security, there's virtualization-and all the tools that go around that. These are all key components as we think about grid and application mobility. So there is a lot going out, but it's part of an orchestrated deployment.

It seems that the main focus of Red Hat's cloud strategy is helping enterprises build a cloud infrastructure of their own. Is that the case?

We play a key role between hardware and applications-be that at the operating system level or the application server level-so we are very focused on starting out with the end in mind. If you're a customer, you should be able to run your application however you want to-be that bare metal, on a hypervisor, on the cloud or as a virtual appliance-and we should be able to allow any of those to happen.

What we basically have done, and we guarantee: If an application is certified to run on RHEL [Red Hat Enterprise Linux], it's certified to run bare metal, it's certified to run on a hypervisor, and it's certified to run, right now, on the Amazon EC2 cloud.

For us, one of the key things-given that we come from a heritage of working in the data center with large enterprises-is making sure whatever deployment model [companies] decide for their applications will work.

Now, a lot of that is work around the cloud, because, obviously, we already have bare metal and hypervisor. But, [the cloud] really does look like a key deployment option that our customers want and that in general looks like a direction the industry seems to be moving in, so we need to be there for our customers and for our ISV partners.

As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. Jason's coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at

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