Red Hat CTO Chris Wright: We're creating an autonomic platform

We sat down with Red Hat CTO Chris Wright to discuss open source's apparent victory, and what contributors might need their guard up about in light of increasing interest in open source communities

Credit: Stephen Lawson/IDG

With the latest release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and OpenShift being packed with Kubernetes-friendly features, Red Hat is looking to create what its CTO Chris Wright calls the "autonomic computing platform".

Here at the Red Hat Summit in Boston - the first since IBM's acquisition plans for the open source company were made public - Computerworld UK sat down with Wright to talk the major new announcements, trends, open source's apparent victory, and what contributors might need to have their guard up about in light of increasing interest in open source communities.

The vendor made two major announcements this week, focused on both its Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) version 8 and OpenShift container platform version 4 being enhanced with Kubernetes-friendly features respectively.

The Autonomic Computing Platform

Together these form part of what Wright calls the "autonomic computing platform" that Red Hat is seeking to create.

"We're building the primitives needed to create an autonomic computing platform - autonomous clouds," as he put it. "We're trying to give you the right kind of tooling, it starts with instrumentation and it builds with the operator framework, so that a platform can be self-tuning, self-optimising, and scaling as need goes."

This starts with a greater focus on interoperability and operations for OpenShift 4.0, which will be available across public cloud vendors Alibaba, AWS, GCP, IBM Cloud, Azure and OpenStack, as well as virtualisation platforms and bare metal services - creating a "self-managing" platform for the multi-cloud world. It includes more automated features and seeks to address complexity hurdles that have long been associated with container deployments.

"Our focus with RHEL 8 is to be the hybrid cloud operating system and really define what it means to be an operating system in what, maybe, is a slightly changing landscape," says Wright. "Historically, we understood it really well: you've got servers, light up the bare metal, get your applications on top ... all of that stays true, but when you move into a cloud and you're spanning multiple public clouds, bringing workloads off- and on-premise, we have to reimagine what the operating system looks like a little bit."

That re-imagination translates into improved manageability and visibility, as well as tighter integration with security and performance platform Red Hat Insights.

"It's a refresh of content - we have all the open source projects out there that continue to move forward, and with RHEL 8 we're bringing the newer upstream base into that same state of the platform," he says, adding that all together it should lead to better customisation of the operating system and images for better tailoring according to workload requirements, such as reducing footprint.

"What we're really driving for is trying to speak to two key audiences," says Wright. "One is the developer audience where we have CI/CD pipelines, and we're trying to build the platform that makes it easiest to deploy your applications independent of the underlying infrastructure.

"OpenShift is our hybrid cloud platform, it gives you the ability to span all the different footprints, across multiple clouds and on-premise. We're also focusing on that operational experience - how can we make both of those personas as happy as possible?"

Playing nice

Of course, the various open source communities, vendors, organisations and foundations are counting on their technologies fundamentally working with one another: an increasingly complex task as more and more projects are on the march.

For Red Hat, says Wright, interoperability means having a consistent platform for applications to run on.

"If you think about the value proposition of RHEL, on the one hand it lights up hardware with a rich set of choices: you build up your data centre, pick your server vendor, RHEL will produce a consistent runtime environment independent of those underlying physical servers," he says. "Now applications can be deployed into any one of those servers ... that would be a type of portability we're focused on.

"If you take that concept - stretch RHEL to a cluster, place that cluster on public cloud, a virtualised data centre, even bare metal, you're creating that same consistency and interoperability independent of the underlying infrastructure. The piece that's consistent is the platform."

Bare metal at the edge

Some of the managed service providers have spent years insisting that the data centre is dead, and that public cloud is the only way forward for most organisations - sometimes referencing that even the most traditionally cautious financial institutions are upping the stakes with public cloud gambits.

What has crystallised in recent years is a little different.

The data centre is not at all dead, and in fact, with the reality of edge computing on the horizon - where distributed computing resides closer to where the compute needs to be - bare metal provisioning and management will steadily become even more vital.

Combine this with the fact that the majority of the world's servers run on Linux, and companies like Red Hat and arch-rival Ubuntu are well poised to sweep up as key infrastructure players when pervasive, ambient computing becomes reality, especially as interest in 5G networks continues to accelerate all over the world.

Wright agrees. It is, he says, "super cool" that bare metal is being talked about more positively again because Red Hat is, after all, an operating system company.

"In the end, when you launch an application in a container, it's running directly on the operating system: there's no magic," he says. "The hypervisor provides a different kind of abstraction layer. Containers really bring the application straight to the operating system and you can imagine environments where running directly on bare metal is going to be a preferred outcome.

"Cloud providers have variants of an on-premise footprint today that they're also advocating which, from our point of view, you could say validated what we've been talking about. As you get not just into the data centre but to edge locations - having the ability to deploy directly to bare metal, I think it's just to be expected."

And Red Hat customers are interested in running Kubernetes on bare metal. With smaller form factors necessary to operate at the edge, businesses will need to extract the maximum performance from hardware with inherent constraints.

This kind of distributed computing is likely to change the dynamics of computing in general.

"We've had large data centres and big public clouds," says Wright. "As we move out to the edge, it changes what the landscape looks like: so being data-centric and entirely distributed is where we're placing our focus, and where we think the world's going. You can already start to see some of that, it's not so far out as it felt a couple of years ago."

A critical piece in this, he believes, is in Linux containers and Kubernetes having become an "industry de facto standard".

"That experimentation that created the container form factor, and Kubernetes as a key orchestration layer - all that experimentation, which initially looks like fragmentation, and consolidation, and with consolidation we get total industry focus around a common platform.

"That's what's made Linux survive for decades - so I think we're stepping into that next round of long-term industry focus around the core platform. In this case it's distributed, and not just distributed within a data centre, multiple clusters are distributed across everywhere."


Wright understandably wouldn't talk to us about the recently-approved IBM-Red Hat acquisition. Instead, Computerworld UK asked if the round of big-name vendor acquisitions of open source companies speaks to a broader trend - could it be the commoditisation of communities? And does it even matter who is steering the ship if the communities themselves are organic and active?

"There's definitely been acquisition activity in this space of companies built around open source technologies," says Wright. "The thing about communities that gives me confidence that that's not a threat is the developers - I'm going to generalise but [those] involved in communities tend to be passionate about the projects they're working on.

"They don't like to be taken for granted and told what to do, or treated as if they're just free labour, and that gives a resiliency to the broader open source community. What I do think is happening, and will continue to happen - and I think it's predominantly a positive thing that there's intention we have to pay attention to - is there is a continual corporate interest in open source projects and development."

In the big picture, he says, you could say that open source has won.

"We should celebrate that. But there's some responsibility associated with that. We also have to protect what it means to be open source: that's kind of how I think about it. I wouldn't exactly call it the commoditisation of the developer. I think that's because the developers wouldn't go for it."

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