Red Hat’s Whitehurst: What Next For Open Source?

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Red Hat can’t match Microsoft or Oracle’s marketing budgets, but the open source paradigm gives it an advantage in the long term, chief executive Jim Whitehurst told eWEEK Europe

Red Hat chief executive Jim Whitehurst is on a high after the company’s annual customer conference. The event, launched RHEL 5.4, it also took JBoss middleware to the cloud, and included new cloud projects

At the show, he spoke to eWEEK Europe’s Miya Knights at the show, and emphasised the open source vendor’s plans for growth and mainstream domination.

Jim Whitehurst said that Red Hat‘s next phase of growth lay not so much in winning open source fans over to its technology, but in winning business hearts and minds to the idea that open source is truly enterprise-ready.

“Red Hat has historically done extremely well not just with ‘techies,’ but with companies that are very sophisticated technologically, in terms of running stock exchanges, trading platforms and other mission-critical applications for instance,” he told eWEEK Europe.

“Our technology is fantastic and the people who buy technology simply based on its merits buy our products,” he told eWEEK Europe – repeating the comapny’s claim to have minted a paradigm as new as that of Facebook or Wikipedia. “But we’re still a relatively small company.”

The company has only had an enterprise edition product and sold to the corporate world for six years, he said: “The company’s older, but it’s been six years sine we started down this enterprise path. So, in that time, we’ve made a lot of progress. We’re growing double digits right now, when everyone else [in the commercial IT industry] is shrinking. We’ve done quite well locking out key lighthouse accounts and moving forward with those technically sophisticated customers and meeting their needs.

Getting the message out

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“We now need to communicate that message more broadly to the Fortune 1000, even though most of our existing customers are already in this group,” he explained.

“There’s two messages that we have to get across: one is about open source and the power of open source. But at the same time, the other message is about the value of commercial open source. It’s a tough message to get across; about open source and then the value of paid-for, enterprise open source. But I think that where we might need to develop those messages more strongly, I find that when I take these messages out to CIOs [chief information officers] they get it.

“One of our major initiatives is all around mainstream adoption, which means or messaging has to e a lot crisper for a less technical, mainstream audience around the value of open source and, more specifically, around the value of Red Hat,” he said. “For us, the major effort we’re putting into our initiative around mainstream adoption centres on doing a better job of explaining why better technology leads to better business outcomes, specifically by industry, function etc.

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