Thursday, September 22, 2016

Red Hat leverages Linux strengths to address Digital Transformation

By Bill Moran and Rich Ptak

Let’s start with an admission that in recent years we have not been following Red Hat in any detail. We had considered them a niche Linux player., and paid little attention thereafter. That, we now realize, was a mistake.

We heard the first inklings at a 2015 Red Hat event, but circumstances prevented any significant follow-up. When Red Hat scheduled an Analyst Event in NY city, we followed up to get the details of its much larger vision and ambitions for the data center. These extend far beyond just new Linux versions. 

Red Hat’s executive speakers at the conference clearly demonstrated that the company had transformed themselves to claim a position of real strength in addressing the challenges of digital transformation currently facing most enterprises today. To us, digital transformation is about adopting a full range of new and emerging technologies that enterprises must adopt to succeed. In particular, it is digital technologies impacting the data center. These include implementation and integration of mobile, a mix of cloud architectures, agile development, cognitive computing, etc. 

Red Hat plans to leverage a solid base of solutions built on its product portfolio, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), Red Hat Virtualization, Red Hat OpenStack platform, Red Hat Satellite, etc., along with other emerging technologies. They believe (with good reason – see Figure 1 below) that existing Red Hat customers will want their private cloud or a public cloud to be built on RHEL. They also believe no single cloud version or architecture is likely to satisfy all customer requirements.  

Figure 1 Red Hat's suite of Cloud offerings

 Amazon has carved a solid, growing niche in the development and test world. Common sense indicates that customers with production RHEL will be reluctant and will resist wholesale conversions to Amazon Linux. At the same time, they may well use Amazon Linux for testing or development while in Amazon’s cloud.   Red Hat’s open strategy deals with this situation as their tools, services and management offerings all allow a customer to work in multiple clouds and modes of operation. 

In fact, Red Hat expects that future enterprise customers will have to operate in several modes. These can be characterized as bare metal, virtualized, private cloud, public cloud, and hybrid cloud. Customers will have applications operating in each mode. Red Hat will provide customers the tools and management capability to handle this increasingly complex situation with all based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

As a fundamental strategy, this makes excellent sense. Red Hat is building on their strength. Another critical point Red Hat can make. They have many years’ experience as a leading open source player. They understand how the workings of the collaborative development process. When they acquire companies, which they have done quite strategically, they convert any proprietary products to open source. Their experience helps these conversions to succeed. They have made the major investment to rewrite products to make them compatible with their philosophy and existing offerings. 

Red Hat knows that typical open source products go through many releases. Enterprise customers must have production-ready products, including open source ones. They are willing to pay to assure the products are reliable. Red Hat has grown into a multi billion-dollar company based on their ability to supply support and maintenance to assure open source products meet enterprise requirements. 

Here is how the Red Hat methodology works. There is broad interest today in Open Stack technology. So, Red Hat sees a business opportunity and offers support for it. Open Stack developers typically produce a release every six months. However, enterprise customers cannot replace production software every six months. They want production-ready software they can install and use for a significant period, possibly multiple years. Red Hat will analyze the open source code. They will educate their staff so that they can provide maintenance and other support on the release for an extended period.  Red Hat’s educated staff provides the support and reliability that enterprises want.

We did some research into Red Hat’s key product, RHEL. We spoke with a very experienced Linux app developer, who uses RHEL all the time. His opinion is that RHEL is an excellent solution for production systems. He would not use anything else.  Also, any Linux expert would find that the Red Hat offering is exactly what they would want to use.  In some special situations, they (and he) might use another version of Linux. We have already mentioned Amazon Linux as a good example of this situation.  

Based on all that we’ve heard and found out, Red Hat is in a strong position to succeed in the efforts to broaden their market. Even recognizing the limitations of an anecdotal sample, our sense is that they understand the market they are targeting.

Finally, we found Red Hat’s event to be well-organized and informative. Their executives quite ably communicated exactly and what and why the company was doing to succeed in the market.  The Red Hat staff was knowledgeable. We expect to be writing more about Red Hat’s strategy and their portfolio of products and services in support of that strategy. 

We suggest that anyone considering a Digital Transformation should make the effort to investigate and understand Red Hat and its offerings. It seems to us that they would make an excellent partner for this work. Their established record of success with Linux products and services as well as they history in the Open Source world gives them greater credibility than many other in what is becoming a very crowded vendor space.