Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst is coming up on his five-year anniversary at the helm, following his arrival in December 2007. Under Whitehurst's leadership, Red Hat's revenue has grown from $523 million in its fiscal 2008 to more than $1.1 billion in its fiscal 2012, without deviating from its core strategy of open source infrastructure software.
In an interview this week at the Red Hat Summit conference in Boston, Whitehurst spoke to IDG News Service on a variety of topics, including his company's role as a "commoditizer" of technologies, why Red Hat is staying away from the applications business, and his view of how Oracle is handling the stewardship of Java.
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IDG News Service: You mentioned in your opening keynote on Tuesday that cloud computing is best compared to nuts and bolts: engineered, pre-made tools that enable innovation on top. Red Hat seems to be in the nuts-and-bolts business with products like your OpenShift PaaS (platform as a service), so how do you avoid becoming a commodity yourselves?
Jim Whitehurst: A lot of times, we are the commoditizers. So we're happy to play that role. We have a production system built on open source, which allows people to create great software at a very, very low cost. Which allows us to commoditize and still be profitable. So we're actually kind of proud to be the people who are helping to commoditize. It started with compute with Linux, another level of abstraction with JBoss and our application platform, and now we're doing it with storage with Gluster, and ultimately we'll try to do it with the whole cloud.
IDGNS: Red Hat remains a committed infrastructure vendor, whereas your competitors in this area, such as IBM, have been moving into some types of business applications. Why have you stayed out of that business?
Whitehurst: In any company you have to figure out what your core source of differentiation is and we think it's that we know how to leverage open source to deliver excellent enterprise software. Open source generally does well where there are broad, standardized use cases, such as operating systems. As soon as you march up into application functionality, that's more specialized. Building broad communities of use to build something is really, really hard.
I know some people are trying, there is open-source CRM and some of these other categories out there. But I think building a community to contribute to top-quality applications is really difficult. Also, one of the things we do is long-life support, certified hardware, certified applications around our infrastructure. All of those things have value. As soon as you're at an application layer, those things have a little bit less value. But mostly it's about the difficulty of building a community around vertical applications.
IDGNS: Red Hat and other open-source companies like to talk about how much money their customers can save compared to buying products from proprietary vendors like Oracle, IBM, and SAP. But how does this notion of saving customers money interact with your responsibility as a public company with delivering growth every quarter?