Red Hat CEO: "more innovation" now in open source than proprietary

What could a former Delta Airlines chief teach us about open source?

This is the opening line of several stories quoting Red Had CEO Jim Whitehurst who has undeniably come from a corporate airline background to the world of open source and software engineering.

But Whitehurst is no fool, himself a computer science graduate and alumni member of the London School of Economics and Harvard; so what is his take on the open model of computing architecture, applications and data today?

Jim Whitehurst.jpg

“Information assets are becoming more important than physical assets for the first time,” said Whitehurst this week at the Red Hat Summit and JBoss World 2012 developer symposium in the city of Boston, Massachusetts.

“We’ve talked about being in an information age for the last 60 years but now we’re finally in the information economy,” he said.

Whitehurst is good at bringing things down to “back of a cereal packet simple” and, for his money, open source is now at a point where its standards and interoperability have brought us to a point of “commoditisation and componentisation” such that real growth can now occur — although the “battle” against proprietary technology vendors is far from over of course.

Computing commoditisation & componentisation

The Red Hat CEO pointed this year’s keynote audience to a nice example of componentisation in production…

It was only 100 years between the invention of the ‘autolathe’ machine and process to manufacture standard components parts in physical engineering such as the standard screw and, then, subsequently, the invention of the combustion engine and the jet plane. As we now move to open standards in open source and the cloud, it is amazing to see the degree to which people will innovate once you give then STANARD COMPONENT PARTS.

For Whitehurst, the fact that we’re “finally” seeing componentisation happening in this space means that as far as he sees it, more innovation will now happen first in the open source arena — and this in itself is indeed a radical change.

Red Hat believes that we are now in a time when open source has become a “mainstream” technology paradigm — although propriety vendors will still work to try and “control” the code

“Open source is the default choice of the next generation IT architecture,” said Whitehurst. But the decisions that we now take over the next few years are (as a result of this mainstream acceptance) more critical than ever.

Really real open source users

Red Hat cloud evangelist Richard Morrell used his blog this week to underline the commercial reality level at which open source is being accepted now by reminding us that the people in the room were PAYING attendees.


“[… these] are people who use Red Hat Enterprise Linux and JBoss as part of their everyday go to work, and as a snapshot of the user base they represent people that a decade ago you probably would have presumed to be large scale Microsoft users but who have migrated away to a more resilient sensible way of working,” wrote Morrell.

Does Red Hat do anything wrong? Well, the company isn’t keen on VMware and says so out loud, but corporate dirty laundry isn’t really very interesting is it? Especially when there is real innovation to discuss, which many here would argue that there is.

Could we really see a time when there is no more Windows?

Ask the guy who invented the “autolathe” to mass produce screws and nuts in the 1800s whether he thought that one day his bolts would be holding the wings onto jet aircraft…

… there’s your answer.

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We are at that time that "commodisation" or "consumerisation" must be mandatory in all corporate & cloud based IT environments to enable low cost, service based and pervasive computing to become once and for all a reality. By the far the biggest challenge to be faced is how historical, organically funded investment of IT (including the way some IT vendors have cleverly encouraged this type of model within their own platforms to enforce "lock in" and market stickiness) over the past 20 odd years has created anything but a "componentised" environment. Time we as an industry listen to our customers and how we can be just as dynamic and change in step with how business must to remain competitive and profitable. Let's be real enablers and stop the spin. Today, the grim reality is that many interdependencies of legacy and even well intended modernised mission/business critical systems will determine the real journey required toward a strategic target environment that ideally will comprise standardised and interchangeable solution components. I find myself constantly astonished at the many billions of dollars spent in large scale "transformation" type projects that have not really delivered transformational change in thinking, delivery and realised benefits. More importantly, it is imperative that the transition to open source includes the enabling of a truly service based and "on demand" solution experience that will assist in re-establishing trust with business (this is also a broader ICT industry issue). Certainly open source minimises the capital outlay of expensive proprietary platforms. Maybe finally, mature and robust open standards have the real opportunity to once and for all change the current industry standards definition model (or more to the point) perception that a percentage a particular vendor has in an install base means that they become the "default standard". Hopefully Jim may just have a company that has the impetus and vision required to get things moving en masse and to break the chain of ill informed and misdirected marketing hype that some vendors carry on with who purposely build interdependencies into their latest applications and platforms that only fosters and further enforces the legacy thinking of the past under the guise of lowering costs and improving usability. The reality is, customers are then forced to define their business & IT strategies according to vendor product roadmaps because componentisation does not exist nor is it in the interests of the current playmakers of the industry to encourage customer choice and still have cost effective "best of breed" solutions. A world of low cost hardware, open platforms and a realistic roadmap (coupled with mature management tools - where the open source community has been lagging in the past) may finally be a reality. We just need the attention of some truly innovative CXO playmakers and client focused IT Service Providers to have the courage to lead. Some whom already have.