“We want to be the undisputed leader in enterprise cloud,” Red Hat’s chief executive Jim Whitehurst said recently.
It’s a big target to set yourself. There’s plenty of competition from incumbents such as Microsoft (now changing its game), and new entrants such as Amazon (breaking down the doors).
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One thing both have to help them is an ecosystem. Microsoft spent decades building a world of partners and developers around Windows, that it now hopes to turn into cloud developers. Nobody has mobilised devs on quite the same scale as Microsoft in personal computing.
Amazon has a strong brand and a foot in the door with AWS: it started as a developer play but has turned into a CIO-level decision.
So where does Red Hat turn? Microsoft – that’s where.
Red Hat in September hired Harry Mower as senior director, developer programs and evangelism.
Mower has been an evangelist and outreach manager for Microsoft since 2006, on media, telecoms and entertainment. His job, to expand uptake and adoption of Microsoft technologies.
You could argue that’s a sales person’s responsibility, but evangelists don’t dirty their hands with money. They’re deployed to exercise use of soft power – persuasion and diplomacy — to win hearts and minds.
Mower at Red Hat will develop messages and strategies around groups of products. He will work with the company's product teams, determining strategies, and leading a team creating and delivering messages.
Moreover, Red Hat isn’t just hiring Mower – it’s created a new position for him. So why an ex-evangelist from the proprietary side of the tracks, and why now?
“Red Hat has reached a level growing from just Linux then adding JBoss middleware to 12 products and now it’s entering storage, virtualisation software, and cloud technology with OpenShift and OpenStack," Craig Muzilla, senior vice president, application platforms business, told The Reg during a recent interview.
“Now we have become a true enterprise infrastructure provider, rather than a point product, it’s important to look at developers holistically and develop an affinity with developers not just as developers of products for Red Hat.”
Clouds and mobiles
Mower’s charter is to give Red Hat a consistent story for developers, and the mix recently became richer with the addition of mobile elements, following the company's purchase of FeedHenry, a mobile application platform provider, and Inktank Storage, a sponsor of the Ceph distributed file system.
Red Hat also recently announced Project Atomic with Google to make Linux containers in Docker scale.
Cloud and mobile will be big parts of Mower’s charter, Muzilla said. Red Hat’s best known for Linux, and Linux makes up 85 per cent of revenue – this despite buying a middleware business with JBoss. Cloud is growing faster than Linux, but the question is how does Red Hat sustain growth and ensure cloud and mobile become its second and third engines.
Underpinning all the above is OpenStack — Red Hat’s strategic bet. OpenStack is gift to Linux firms who want their horse in the race currently dominated by proprietary elastic data and compute platforms, such as AWS.
Red Hat has deals with Dell and Cisco: Dell is selling Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform (RHEL with OpenStack); and, announced in September, it has a joint development of cloud “solutions” with Cisco.
However, is OpenStack in danger of becoming sidetracked or even fragmented, and is the project's scale and complexity putting it at risk of doing a Unix?
Hewlett-Packard and Oracle are offering their badged versions, supposedly enterprise ready, while a small army of highly-paid consultants roam the land knitting the OpenStack APIs together for customers with money but not skills.
Muzilla acknowledges there is some fragmentation but counters that OpenStack is maturing “as would be expected” with lots of projects and lots of voices. “It’s a matter of time before the whole project matures.”
Even so, he believes Red Hat is a safe choice if you want true OpenStack. “Red Hat has the history of staying true to the project and to the core and not trying to deviate and fork,” he said.
Rallying developers behind Red Hat's OpenStack cloud is therefore critical to ensuring its cloud platform is the one that wins.
But why the curious choice of Mower, a former cheer leader who until now would have been telling customers, partners and devs Microsoft's proprietary stack was easier to use and had a lower total cost of ownership than anything Linux and open source could offer?
Well, critically for Red Hat, Mower’s evangelism took him into the land of the telcos. One of the perceived endpoints for OpenStack is something service providers can sell against AWS. Red Hat is partnering with Nokia to put Red Had Enterprise Linux and OpenStack on Nokia’s gear for cloud-based services.
Also, he'll be bathed in knowledge and experience in how to run a convincing and compelling campaign that resonates at the grass-roots.
“It’s not an issue of open source versus cloud source,” Muzilla said of Mower’s proprietary past. “We focussed on his ability to develop the relationship with developers and customers, with people who use middleware and application platforms and cloud technology."
"Microsoft does a good job of talking about the uses of the technology and how to approach those developers, whether they are in corporate IT or academia, and the build programs.”
That’s what Red Hat's really going to need if it’s to deliver on Whitehurst’s promise and become than "just" a leading Linux distro. ®