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.
Open source software marketing

Get the message? Open source is about control…

In my last post I described the threat open-source and internally-developed software poses to traditional, proprietary software vendors. This week, based on what customers tell me about open source, I’ll suggest some themes mainline vendors should hit in their messaging (and in their product development) to compete.

Open Source: Not Just for Free Anymore

First, some definitions, to clarify terms and emphasize the nature and scale of the change traditional vendors are facing.

Proprietary software is typically developed, owned, sold and maintained by a for-profit company. Think Microsoft Office, Oracle databases, or systems management software from HP, CA, or BMC. The customer buys a license and usually pays a yearly maintenance fee of 15-20% of the purchase price for enhancements, support, and upgrades. Also – and this is important – the vendor owns the underlying source code, and only it can make changes to it.

Open source software such as the Linux operating system, the Hadoop software library for “Big Data” analytics, and tens of thousands of other examples, is not “owned” by any one entity. It is offered free, or at minimal cost, by its developer. Just as importantly, its source code is available for modification by any user. The more useful and popular the software, the most users develop enhancements and bug fixes for it.

It is also sold and supported by vendors, some of whom also (or only) provide services. But the community drives its ongoing development.

...and Mirantis helps provide it.

…and Mirantis helps provide it.

This leads directly to some of the pressing pain points that are drawing the youngest and most innovative IT types to open source and away from proprietary software. Here are seven of these pain points more traditional software vendor need to hit in their messaging.

Hot Buttons

Speed: It’s long been an annoyance that corporate IT can’t meet user’s needs. With today’s shrinking product cycles and pace of change, the internal IT group – and often the company it serves – are toast if they can’t change adapt their services quickly to meet new market needs.

Messaging suggestion: Stress product features and case study examples of how your software speeds DevOps– style development, deployment, and enhancement of applications or services. Describe your ease of use, the number and range of supporting software libraries, and any “frameworks” or best practices you offer.

Cost: Maybe you can’t match the pricing of a start-up with offices in a third-tier office park (or no offices at all). But you should at least be in the same ballpark. If not, be prepared to explain why you’re worth more.

Messaging suggestions: Highlight flexible licensing terms, or your SaaS offerings that can help match open-source  cost and flexibility. If you can justify a higher price with your scalability, manageability, security, etc., explain it clearly. If you lack such advantages, go back to the development drawing board. If you require less in-house skills and tuning than open source alternatives, stress this as its a legitimate cost factor.

Collaboration: The day of the solitary coder sitting in their cube doing what they’re told may not be over, but it’s not where the market-changing innovation is coming from. One consultant told me of a very mundane trouble ticket application that turned into an enjoyable, “Is it already five o’clock?” project because he was paired with a business user in the development process.

Marketing messages: Stress any of the ways in which you support collaborative development, both within the organization and in the open source community. Have you open-sourced any or all of your components, or support open-source frameworks? Do you support or host some of your work in progress, in on-line repositories such as GitHub? Do you support, or encourage, the use of in-house collaborative techniques such as pair programming in which developers work as teams?

Excitement:  Your customers are struggling with small, exciting startups for talent. They can’t match the salaries at a Google or Amazon, or the potential stock payout at a startup. But they can get and keep good talent by giving them the chance to develop something important and game-changing.

Marketing messages: If your product was ever used to develop anything game-changing, highlight it as an example of how an internal team can accomplish great, and even fun, things. If you can include (good luck!) the name and photo of the developer(s) who did wonders at a customer, all the better. Make it personal and real. 

 Scale: Can your technology scale from zero users to thousands or millions in a week? If so, explain how; if not, maybe another opportunity to go back to the drawing board.

Marketing messages: What fundamentally new technology, processes or skills do you bring to the table that allows massive, very inexpensive, dynamic scaling up and down as needs change? What about your technology allows is to scale out to infinite amounts of data, transactions, users, data types or protocols?

Security: Most observers agree open source software can be as safe or safer than proprietary software. But that doesn’t guarantee that the right processes are in place to ensure the most critical vulnerabilities are found and corrected.

Marketing message: If your software or service has the chops to consistently outdo the open source development process in finding and remediating vulnerabilities, flaunt it. If you specifically play in the open-source security space, play that up, too.

Fun: Do you sound open-source, or old and tired?

Marketing message: Get a hipster to give your product an edgy name. Would BMC, Cisco, IBM, or EMC name a product  MongoDB, Cucumber-Chef or Voldemort?

Again, cost isn’t the main driver behind open source adoption — it’s top-line benefits such as speed, scalability and flexibility. Drop me a line if you need marketing collateral to help fight – or ride – the open source wave.

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.