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A Fireside Chat with Red Hat CEO James Whitehurst

Red Hat CEO James M. Whitehurst gathered a group of reporters and analysts  Computer Business Review’s Conor Reynolds included around for a fireside chat about Red Hat strategy, culture and containers at its Summit conference in Boston.

Here are some choice cuts from the conversation,

…How’s It All Going?!

“I’m trying to run this little software company and continue to organically grow at double digit rates. I spend a lot more time than average out with customers. A lot of them are IBM customers, are Red Hat customers and they want to know how this is all going to work. I probably talk to 10 customers a week.”

“We’re not a professional services company, but because we’ve been open to open source for 25 years, people naturally come to us and ask for our help and thoughts about the cultural transformation needed to leverage the technologies [they need] to deliver at the pace that their business customers expect.”

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What Concrete Steps are you Taking to Safeguard the Open Source Ethos You’ve Built?

We had strategic latitude to do what we want as an independent company, which is a lot of work with open source communities. We’re now going to be owned by IBM – and I would rather be owned by IBM, which is passionate about open source and a big contributor to it, than a bunch of mutual funds out there that could care less – but I still believe our best way to be able to drive open source forward is to hit our commitments and continue to grow.”

Red Hat CEO
James M. Whitehurst

How is the Industry Changing?

“We are in a period of time over the next five years where the predominant technology architecture is going to emerge and there are two ways that’s going to emerge.

It’s going to be native public cloud architectures. But as the public clouds try to innovate and differentiate –  differentiation sounds good, different doesn’t as much right? – they’re going to be different.”

“A container platform on Amazon is going to be different than Google’s [which is] is going to be different than Microsoft’s; and so the public clouds are starting to look and feel more like Unix than Linux, because they are all slightly different and they’re drifting further apart as they all work to innovate. Rightly so for their customers.”

“Our vision is a much more horizontal view of the world.”

“So when we looked at Red Hat Enterprise Linux back in the day, I would argue one of our biggest sources of value we provided was if you built an application for Red Hat Linux, three years later if you wanted to do a hardware refresh you had a lot of choice; we really drove hardware margins down to single digit and provided a lot of flexibility in terms of where and how you ran the application.”

When you think about the cloud now as deployment models and a container platform as being the equivalent to an OS, we absolutely, passionately, strongly believe that we need to have the equivalent of a Linux: a consistent infrastructure stack that runs across all deployment models. That’s what OpenShift is.

Read this: Red Hat OpenShift 4: Automated Updates, Jenkins Integrations…

Red Hat Strategy: How are Fostering Competitive Advantage for the Company?

“It’s hard to come up with a source of advantage that makes you better at coming up with the next new thing, [rather] than some startup [doing it].

As the CEO of a software company, and I think of myself as a bit of a strategist, I’ve obsessed over that for years.”

“I truly believe that Red Hat does have a sustainable source of competitive advantage around our capability to work in upstream communities and catalyse that and turn into enterprise products. And the reason it is different than most software companies, is most software companies hire 10 developers and pull the right knowledge you need.”

“In Red Hat it’s not just knowledge, it’s culture that drives our ability to engage in upstream communities and how we engage with customers how we create products.”Red Hat CEO

“So we really do have a culture-based source of advantage; that’s how we went from leader in Linux, to leader in open stack, to leader in containers. The reason we can do that is because we can catalyse communities across those things.”

“I would argue we’ll be able to do it in other categories in the future, but only if we can maintain the culture. So our culture and our source of advantage are inextricably linked.”

“We want to get passionate people, even if they’re not passionate about open source will get them passionate about open source, so we look for cues when we hire people about what have they been passionate about in the past. What gets them really energised and can we direct that towards our mission.”

“If you can find great user driven innovation and then we add a bit on it to take it the last mile to make it enterprise ready, that’s a great business model, we make a lot of money doing that.”
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