In the six years since I first visited Red Hat’s user show,  open source software has become the default choice for enterprise applications and the cloud infrastructures on which they run. This year’s Red Hat Summit provided a  good look at how the open source vendor’s products are evolving and being marketed as it prepares for its $34 billion acquisition by IBM.

Open source means users can view and modify the code to fix bugs and meet new needs. This means a  global pool of enthusiasts improve the software 24/7/365 rather than waiting for a vendor’s next release cycle. But big customers still want enterprise-level support and a single vendor’s “throat to choke.” Hence the rise of Red Hat Software, which grew to a $3.4 billion company by providing support and standard versions of a blizzard of products tailored to the needs of major enterprises.

I came away impressed with the breadth and scale of how open source is replacing more traditional software, and how Red Hat’s roots in the open source community shape its messaging.

My takeaways:

Open Source Is Big

The Boston Convention and Exposition Center was buzzing with a record attendance of about 9,000 and a show floor filled with vendors from startups to industry stalwarts such as HP, Dell EMC, and SAP.  IBM CEO Ginni Rometty showed up to hug Red Hat CEO James Whitehurst, which might have been expected given the upcoming acquisition. What impressed the audience more was CEO Satya Nadella of Microsoft endorsing, in person, Red Hat’s OpenShift cloud management platform running on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform. (OpenShift is based not on Microsoft Windows, but Linux, which former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer once called a “cancer”.)

Open source is also big in terms of the companies it serves and the applications it runs. Ken Finnerty, president of IT for UPS, described why the global shipper chose Open Shift for its 59 million user My Choice online tracking and shipping platform.  Other featured customers included HCA Healthcare, BMW, and Deutsche Bank. Red Hat has invested heavily in technologies ranging from load balancing to middleware (and worked closely with the big cloud providers) to allow once-fringe open source to run workloads that once would have taken a mainframe.

Know Thy Customer

Who, in this case, is very, very technical. Think jeans and t-shirts, command-line interfaces  and dense architectural diagrams even for keynotes. One demonstration that drew applause and whistles  was the real time capture of movement data from the audience’s smartphones as they waved them in the air (video here) with Red Hat’s infrastructure instantly scaling up to capture and display the data flow.

Red Hat also had something I’d never seen at a trade show: Dedicated, staffed booths where any customer, developer or partner could share their likes and dislikes. There were even tablets (see screen at right) asking for feedback about how  Red Hat listens and communicates. I don’t know what happens to this feedback but asking for it loudly and clearly sends a powerful message.

Love Thy Customer

Most customer endorsements somehow feel more about the vendor than the customer. Red Hat lined the halls with big photos of customers describing how Red Hat helped them, with comments often focused more on Red Hat’s commitment to them then the speeds, feeds, and features of its software. Even ads featuring Red Hat’s new logo took pains to assure the reader that the company’s “soul” is unchanged. How tech companies even claim to have a “soul” these days with a straight face?

Automate and Simplify

With the exploding size and complexity of enterprise clouds, there was a lot of talk about the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to create automated and even self-healing systems. As is the case in AI- aided security, there’s a lot of hype to watch for but also some signs of real results. One was Federator.ai from ProphetStor Data Services, Inc. which the company claims uses AI to choose just the right amount of compute, networks and storage from the right public clouds for OpenShift environments and fine tunes those recommendations over time.

Another major theme was point and click interfaces for everything from building AI machine learning models to troubleshooting cloud performance problems. Longtime application performance monitoring vendor Dynatrace now offers a platform that clearly describes not only the nature of a problem, but the number and even the identity of the affected users. This not only bridge the infamous gap between IT and the business but expands Dynatrace’s user base from system administrators to mere mortals who run the business.

The Next Marketing Frontier

Moving forward, marketers would do well to clearly explain open source tools such as operators, sidecars, Akka clusters, hyper converged infrastructure and service meshes to both techie and business types, prove vendor claims of AI-enabled everything and explain how automation and more user friendly interfaces can help not just the geeks in the back room but the bottom line.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Content Cookbook #4: Containers

content sequence containers Over the last ten years or so, virtualization has taken over the world of X86-based servers. Creating pools of “virtual” servers on single physical machines slashed capital and operating costs for in-house data centers. It also let newcomers like Amazon Web Services rent out slices of their ginormous compute, storage and network resources to anyone over the Web, slashing computing costs and creating multiple species of cloud computing.

Today’s emerging buzzword is “containers,” which you can think of “virtualization light.” Rather than using a hypervisor to control complete virtual operating systems on the same CPU, containers run only the components of the operating system needed to run an application. That promises to cut costs even further, speed deployment and enhance security by allowing greater isolation among applications.

Docker has the biggest container (if you will) of mind share, with support from big names such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft, but is facing challenges from newer competitors like  CoreOS. Even as Docker builds out its own management and orchestration services, partners like Google with Kubernetes and Amazon with its EC2 Container service are building their own “platform” of container tools.

The container movement is a classic emerging market where customers are begging to be educated – and, in the process, let you shape the terms of the conversation. What content do you need to inform them, judge their interest and nurture them for a possible sale?

Step 1: Awareness/education

Assume the reader has never heard of containers and provide a concise, “why should I care” explanation. Compare containers to virtualization, highlighting the benefits (greater reliability, lower overhead) as well as the costs and possible risks (the need for new skills, fast-changing marketplace, unproven vendors.)

Provide a high-level or summary overview of how easy or hard it is to implement containers on various operating systems, such as Microsoft vs. Linux. Show your expertise and thought leadership by “framing” the container conversation. Are they the next big thing? Hopelessly overrated? A raw technology that needs to settle down before committing to it? What unique insights can you provide your prospects based on their size, vertical market, installed technology base, or tolerance for risk?

Offer this ungated (no registration) form and promote it aggressively through social media, paid adwords, and SEO. End it with a link to the second piece, for those ready to look at specific container products and services.

Step 2: Consideration

Drill further into the different flavors of containers from various vendors. Compare Docker’s “platform” approach to CoreOS’ focus on “just the container, m’aam.” Discuss specific implementation scenarios (say, hybrid cloud, or a mix of Microsoft Azure and Rackspace clouds) and what it takes to deploy and manage containers from various vendors on each of them. Discuss in detail whether, when and why containers plus virtualization does or does not provide better security than virtualization alone.

Your aim is to equip the reader to issue an RFP, or at least ask killer questions as they evaluate products.  How, for example, does a vendor provide for backup and restore? How does each platform isolate sensitive applications in a multi-tenant environment, where multiple customers share the same hardware, storage and networks? What are the “must-have’s” vs. “nice to haves” to look for management tools? What new skills will the customer need to handle containers?

Again, the more you focus this piece on the needs of your specific prospects the better. Sure, talk about the stuff you happen to do well but focus on being even-handed and knowledgeable. End with a gated tease to your third story, focused on those ready to buy.

Step 3: Evaluation/Implementation

Here’s where you show you’ve thought through the deployment and use of containers so thoroughly the reader absolutely, positively has to consider you.  Get wicked tactical and detailed. Tailor this very specifically to your prospects’ specific concerns, such as complexity and cost (if they’re small) to security and compliance (if they’re a bank) to scalability and management (if they’re a cloud provider.)

If in doubt, drum up some lists based on your real-world experience:

  • “Top seven mistakes our customers made with containers.”
  • “Eight questions to ask about your current environment before choosing a container platform.”
  • “Our five favorite open-source container management utilities.”
  • “Five easy ways to enhance container security.”

Consider rolling in case studies with specifics of your customers’ before and after environments, the time and cost required to implement containers, and of course the business benefits. Gate this with a request for basic contact info (if you haven’t already) or ask for more detail if you’re into progressive profiling.

If you have a marketing automation platform, you can of course score readers based on which of these pieces they read. Any or all of these can also of course be “re-purposed” into Webinars, videos or podcasts, or split into blog posts and Tweets.

Let me know what you’re doing content wise to promote containers, or what other technologies or services you’d like to see a sample template for.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.