Red Hat: More Customer Involvement with Community Needed

Businesses need to share more of the software written for internal use if the open-source community is to reach its full potential.

SAN FRANCISCO-Red Hat hasn't done a good enough job of promoting its position as the leading Linux vendor, and also needs to do a better job of getting its customers involved with the community, Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat CEO and president, told attendees at the opening keynote at the Open Source Business Conference here March 25.

"Our customers expect a lot more from us than we are currently delivering," Whitehurst said. "While we deliver the value of the community model to enterprises, we do a lousy job of getting those enterprises involved with the community."

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Red Hat and others in the community needed to change the way software is developed, so that more of the 90 percent of software that is written for internal use at companies is made available, he said.

"We need to do a better job of helping our customers create or join open-source projects, and so we all need to do a better job of getting out there and evangelizing our business model," Whitehurst said.

Roger Levy, a senior vice president and general manager for the Open Platform Solutions business unit at Novell, told eWEEK that while the company already encourages its customers to get involved in the community, and many of them already are involved, more could be done on this front, especially with regard to getting internally developed software shared more broadly.

"But those customers interested in working with the community tend to want to focus on those projects that are pertinent to them and their business. So some projects have very little appeal to most businesses," Levy said

Whitehurst noted that the low popularity of the United States in the global community is actually helpful to open source and the companies behind it as there is resistance to sending billions of sales dollars back to traditional U.S. businesses.

Bullet-Proof Enterprise Edition

With regard to Red Hat's size, Whitehurst noted that his IT budget at Delta Airlines, where he was chief operating officer before replacing Matt Szulik as Red Hat CEO and president late last year, was greater than Red Hat's annual revenue.

But the Linux vendor has been able to generate better financial performance than any of its proprietary competitors, and its business model is to create enterprise versions of open-source operating systems, he said.

While this is solving a key business need, it also has to be more than just an iteration of the bits.

"We have created an enterprise version of Linux so that you can sleep at night. Most of the world's exchanges run on Red Hat Linux or are moving in that direction," Whitehurst said.

"I often get asked by customers and others why they should not just run Fedora, and my response to them is that spending the time and money writing an application that sits on top of Fedora, but which no longer runs six months later when that code is updated, is not a good idea."

Red Hat creates value by building a bullet-proof enterprise edition with bits that are free, while subscription and support are sold for that, he said.

Asked about his stance on software patents, Whitehurst said Red Hat would not cut deals that protect it and its customers and not the broader community, a reference to the controversial deal SUSE Linux vendor Novell cut with Microsoft in 2006.

Regarding future acquisitions, Whitehurst said Red Hat is narrowing its focus and concentrating on being aggressive in the infrastructure management space.