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.

Open Source: Going Mainstream, Fast

open source software vendors tackle enterprise markets

Don’t be fooled by their casual appearance.

 Everyone from old-line IT vendors to scrappy start-ups converged on Boston for the Red Hat Summit the other week to spread the message that open source software is maturing – quickly.

Major vendors such as IBM and Intel promoted the use of open source and their own contributions to community-led development efforts. Well-known customers such as OfficeMax and Motorola trumpeted their use of open source software. The message from the open source software and services provider and its partners was that open-source technology is tackling every IT-related challenge.

The four-day event had a decidedly geeky flavor. Jogging suits, shorts and ponytails were as common as khakis and blazers among attendees. Booth giveaways included remote control helicopters, and a developer’s lounge on the show floor featured pillows and the requisite foosball game. The CTO of one vendor had on a pair of Google Glasses. While the “camera on” light was kind of creepy, the fact he was having trouble linking the gadget to his tablet (much less the Web) eased my privacy fears.

But rather than fighting corporate America, Red Hat and its partners were pitching to it, pushing the story that the breadth and depth of open source offerings is growing every day, with some of the biggest names in the industry behind it.

Red Hat announced two new offerings based on the OpenStack cloud platform designed to make it easier for commercial customers to move into the cloud. The Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform combines Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux with the OpenStack cloud platform to deliver a “scalable and secure foundation” for private or public clouds. Red Hat Cloud Infrastructure helps organizations create an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platform for both traditional applications as well as emerging cloud-aware applications, with a single management platform for both.

Red Hat also announced Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 3.2, aimed right at “enterprise users and global organizations” who want hybrid (mixed public and private) cloud environments. Among other new features, it allows virtual machine images to be moved among storage domains without disrupting service, as well as enhancements in storage, networking and power management.

Broadening the channels through which its software reaches the market, Red Hat also announced general availability of the Red Hat PaaS (Platform as a Service.) And with the OpenShift Online public cloud application development and hosting platform, Red Hat is hoping to move beyond its historic core of Java developers to enthusiasts of other language such as Ruby, Perl, PHP and Python, said Ashesh Badani, General Manager of Red Hat’s Cloud Business Unit and OpenShift PaaS.

IBM and HP were on the show floor with their heavy-duty server hardware, and Intel weighed in on the software side with its distribution of the Hadoop distributed computing platform, “Built from the silicon up to deliver balanced performance,” among other Hadoop related offerings.

The Next Big Thing?

Startup midokura hopes to make it easier to automate the provisioning of network services  such as distributed switching, server isolation, load balancing and access control lists with its MidoNet “overlay-based network virtualization.” Aimed at customers operating in an infrastructure as a service environment, it replaces hardware such as firewalls and routers with a layer of software (running on commodity hardware) that routes packets to their destinations.

According to Ben Cherian, Chief Strategy Officer at Midokura, the software would handle chores that can’t easily be delivered at the high-churn and scale that cloud environments require. It also eliminates single points of failure, he said, and can isolate tenants on a network to provide secure environments for more users, or customers, than is possible with virtual LANs.

Network switches are still required, he said, as they’re still the best way to quickly route packets around a network). So is a “border node” (running on commodity hardware) and Zookeeper and Cassandra data base clusters to store information about the network.

Azul Systems prevents “out of memory errors” that can stall Java Virtual Machines (JVMs), causing revenue-interrupting outages in response-time sensitive applications. Its “self-correcting” Zing JVM is unique, the company says, in its ability to elastically grow its application memory heap to eliminate such runtime errors.

Still Needed: Auditing, Management, Security

As always, the open source world astounds with the dynamism and sheer inventiveness of its worldwide, grass-roots development community. As even its strongest defenders noted at the show, open source still needs better management, especially of hybrid clouds and applications that “burst” into the public cloud to meet peak processing needs. Auditing and security, while not show-stoppers, are still also areas of concern open source vendors need to address, and that legacy vendors can exploit.

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.

I have to give IBM points for even trying this: They’ve developed an online game that walks players through a (BPM) Business Process Management) exercise. But is asking prospects to spend the time playing an online game good for all parts of the sales cycle?

 

In Innov8 players are presented with multiple scenarios (tweaking a supply chain or improving customer service) and get to see how business process automation helps the business. OK, World of Warcraft it ain’t. Chris Koch, whose blog brought this to my attention, liked the game because it frames the discussion “in a way that makes sense and that connects it to business results…establishes IBM as an expert… (and gives the player) a visual, visceral demonstration of the role that IT automation plays in business performance—which helps IBM sell its WebSphere SOA software (the stuff that enables the automation).”

 

Maybe. I couldn’t tell because the game crashed my browser, twice, before I could get to the real action. (Incoming calls are now automatically routed to the proper call center!) At that point, I had exhausted my curiosity. Which leads me to ask whether you should wait to offer a prospect an online game until they are willing to invest all the time required to wait for screens to load, understand the rules of the game, work through the scenarios, and cope with problems like crashing browsers?

 

In a world where business decision makers are more and more pressed for time, it might make better sense to wait on a game until the prospect has seen enough other content that they understand the basic concepts of BPM and want to get more deeply involved. I’d be curious to hear from IBM itself, or from people who have played the game, whether it met the goal of teaching folks about BPM and making them think of IBM for their BPM project.

 

But if we figure out this game thing, just think of the follow-ons: “Philippines vs. India: Outsourcing Smackdown;” “iSCSI vs. Fibre Channel: The Final Battle,” and of course “Amazon vs. Azure: Dual to the Death in the Cloud.”

 

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.