Open Source

Red Hat and the rise of RHEL

Read time 3min 40sec
Paul Cormier, Red Hat.
Paul Cormier, Red Hat.

If the success of the open source company Red Hat can be ascribed to one thing, it's the Enterprise Linux operating system that it releases.

The company recently unveiled the general release of the latest version, RHEL 8, and it serves as a bellwether for how software development has changed over the years.

Developers are now shouldering more operational responsibilities, which is largely due to the rise in the use of containers. This enables teams to use microservices to build applications. With RHEL 8, Red Hat has also placed container tools such as Buildah, Podman and Skopea directly into the operating system.

Stefanie Chiras, VP and GM for Red Hat enterprise business unit, says RHEL 8 serves as a 'junction point' between the innovation stemming from open source communities upstream, and its attempt at making the software stable and consumable for enterprises.

The company also seems to spend a lot of time telling everyone what they're not.

Chiras says it's a new era of IT, and with RHEL 8, Red Hat is attempting to redefine the value of the operating system, and show that it is an enterprise portfolio company, ' not a product company'.

There is so much change in the IT industry, Chiras says, such as machine learning, deep learning and AI, as well as changes in deployment models, such as virtual machines and containers. Where to deploy also offers some choice, such as on-premises, public cloud, or in multiple public clouds.

"All this change is happening, and it's allowing customers to have more agility and flexibility to do innovation faster. But with all that change, something has to stay the same, so that the work you did yesterday still provides benefit next month and in the next deployment, and that's what Linux is today."

Solving a business problem

Paul Cormier, the executive VP and president of products and technologies, says Red Hat is not an open source company, but rather an enterprise software company, with an open source development model.

Speaking to ITWeb Brainstorm during the Red Hat Summit in 2018, he said he'd been at the company for 17 years, and was employee 120. (It's now heading toward 13 000 employees.)

With all that change, something has to stay the same, so that the work you did yesterday still provides benefit next month and in the next deployment, and that's what Linux is today.

In 2003, Cormier retired the Red Hat Linux product in retail and just after that introduced Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The operating system has now grown into a behemoth that, according to a Red Hat-sponsored IDC survey, "touches" $10 trillion worth of global business revenue.

He said the notion of open source software is still attractive to the enterprise - there's no lock-in, for one thing, but what's really important is that it solves a business problem.

"In the beginning, we could not have done Linux without the big guys letting us," he said. Oracle was an early partner, mainly because it 'wanted a hedge on Microsoft'.

He recalled an anecdote from an IBM executive, now retired, who told him: "We want three Linux vendors - we want the market divided into thirds - and if one of you goes outside of your third, we're going to slap it down."

"What they didn't anticipate was that Linux was going to be the design platform for the future infrastructure." said Cormier. "Everything today, such as cloud, Kubernetes, (open source storage platform) Ceph, is developed and designed around Linux. It's intertwined."

2019, of course, brought the news that IBM is set to acquire Red Hat for $34 billion, subject to regulatory approval.

* The IDC estimates the global business revenue to be $188 trillion in 2019, and of that, at least 40% is touched by software. This 'IT footprint' is worth $81 trillion, and about half of all workloads are running on Linux. RHEL accounts for about 25% of the Linux operating systems deployed, leading the IDC to estimate the RHEL 'footprint' at $10 trillion.

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