Red Hat CEO: We're the cloud leader -- with Linux

Jim Whitehurst says it's not just Red Hat's products, but its philosophy that place it at the forefront of cloud computing

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Tech companies, in general, are full of people who wear jeans and dress casually, but they often act arrogantly. There are a lot of people who think they are visionaries and brilliant, and there are [a few] people like that. I mean, Steve Jobs was a brilliant visionary. But guess what? There are not a lot of Steve Jobs, but there are a lot of people trying to act that way. We just absolutely, positively believe that collaboration leads to better decisions. Every day I come to work and somebody tells me I did this wrong or critiques that or speaks up on some other thing, I actually celebrate it and welcome it. I absolutely believe that we will build better products than VMware, not because we're so great, but because we work with communities of people who are great. If you run the company that way, we end up -- obviously we've done quite well.

IDGE: Jim, I'm interested in your background, working with an airline, which seems -- at least on its face -- that it couldn't be more different than running a tech company. But is it? What did you learn working for an airline that helps you, gives you a leg up as a tech CEO?

Whitehurst: First off, airlines are one of the toughest industries out there. You have to learn how to manage in a really tough environment, and you have to execute and think about every single little thing. In general, technology companies -- once they're established -- spew out cash, and when companies are that successful, that doesn't necessarily breed good management. Many technology companies, over time, don't do all the little things, really rigorous planning. Do we really need to spend that dollar there? Is there a better place we can spend it? Really managing the nickels. We try to invest heavily in our business, but really manage all the way down to the nickels and the pennies to make sure that when we spend money that we're doing it as effectively as possible.

I think rigor around planning and budgeting. If I had to say what have I hopefully brought to Red Hat is discipline around planning and budgeting. Let's lay out a five-year plan, and let's deliver against the initiatives and let's track those initiatives every month, and let's make sure we execute against them. That I think I brought from my experience at Delta, where pennies matter.

But what I do every day is totally and completely opposite of what I did at Delta. Ninety percent of my time at Delta was either out talking to employees, which was important, or it was in my office with numbers in my face. "Why is our first-flight performance at LaGuardia down two percent this week versus last week?" type of stuff. It's a details-oriented business.

At Red Hat, we have high margins, it's all about growth. So I'm still out talking to employees, but I'm also out talking to customers, I'm out talking to partners, because defining strategy is still so much more important at Red Hat because there's so much open space. Where at Delta the strategy is what it is, you're a hub-and-spoke network carrier, and it's about trying to optimize that and run better than your competitors. What I do every day is different, but I do think some of the skills translate over. I think we're much more disciplined that way than we ever were before I was here.

IDGE: That sounds good. I do have a couple more minutes and I wanted to go back to a couple of technology things to ask you about. I want to understand the positioning of OpenStack with your product set. Is it a complement to the existing portfolio, or is it an alternative to some of the things that you're currently offering? Can you get to the same end with OpenStack that you can with the Red Hat portfolio?

Whitehurst: They're certainly complementary. Where exactly does virtualization management end and infrastructure as a service begin? I would say in three or four years that we'll have great nomenclature to be able to talk about that. So RHEV, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, has a management suite which allows for deep management of, and very fine-grained control over, Red Hat virtualized environments. OpenStack is truly infrastructure as a service. If you think about a Venn diagram, there's probably a 5 percent overlap between those things. Because if you're saying you don't really want to run an infrastructure as a service, but you want to run a virtualized environment and to run that well, there's going to be some degree of orchestration and monitoring and stuff where there could be some overlap, but they're for different ends.

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