Red Hat to focus on architecture, stability

Open-source software will be a hot topic in the month of February, between next week's OSDL Enterprise Linux Summit in Burlingame, California, and the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, which begins Feb. 14 in Boston. With that open-source focus as the backdrop, Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik spoke recently with Computerworld about what's most important to his customers, the company's upcoming 4.0 release and the competition.

What user trends have you been noting?

What oftentimes gets missed is that customers are increasingly deciding on an architecture and not on a point product. The leading companies that we're doing business with are all focused on how do they get to a standardized, commodity Intel architecture as fast as possible.

Most of them are migrating from something, whether it be an IBM mainframe or one of the 61 Unix variants. Outside of the United States, it's increasingly becoming Microsoft platforms that are finding their way to an industry-standard, Linux/Intel combination.

What we've witnessed increasingly in the last two years is that the people who brought in Linux and open-source software are now starting to move into more mission-critical deployments, and I think that's not an accident. Of course, (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) 3, the product that's currently in the marketplace, was a very good release, and that was really a major platform to get ISV (independent software vendor) support. All of your core large enterprise applications from Oracle, IBM, BEA, Computer Associates, etc. run on RHEL 3.

That combination is giving enterprises assurance that this migration is relatively safe, and there is a very limited downside. This will be an exciting year because I think you're going to start to see very large customers talking about some quantum return on investment.

What's been happening on the client side?

The next move, I think, we'll start to see is the change out of the desktop. Many people have a conception that it'll operate in a similar paradigm. They'll have a hard drive, and why not swap out Microsoft Office for another Office? But the last four years, we haven't believed that because we've been building out our own desktop implementation focused on how to solve the security problem, the manageability problem, knowing that the thin-client implementation (is) able to provide functionality like single sign-on, better authentication, better management. (Those) were really the ways that our enterprise customers wanted to approach the desktop -- not, "Is somebody's spell checker working better?"

What are customers asking for from an architectural perspective? A complete software stack? A development architecture?

It's all of the above. It is the distribution of loads and the distribution of logic; the repartition of machines; if you're a development environment, (trying) to squeeze out the maximum performance of some of the very large software development environments that we're running in (at) corporations. It could be a database and thinking about how do we deal with this issue of global namespaces as an example. It's less about features and less about incremental functionality.

Did Novell's SUSE Linux acquisition cause you to make any changes?

It did not alter our approach. Certainly, they're a well-capitalized competitor as a result of the Microsoft settlement. But we continue to focus on the most important thing about our company -- customers. They're looking for the consistency and the persistent delivery of value.

When is Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 due, and what are the most critical improvements for corporate users?

Mid-February. I don't think there are going to be enterprise customers lined up because they want the latest widget in RHEL 4. It will be reaffirming in the areas of better security; better policy management to make sure that a systems administrator has less complexity to deal with in a very large, distributed environment to distribute security policies; better manageability, of course; the ability of an integrated kernel that will provide better support for ISVs and better throughput; (and) areas around multithreading. It will be an incredibly good, rich, stable release.

Do you have any concerns that Novell's SUSE distribution supported the 2.6 Linux kernel first?

They did -- but you know, our customers are not in that race to be first.

Who do you now view as the greatest competition?

The same ones there have always been -- the evil-headed twin. It's Sun and Microsoft.

What's your take on open-source Solaris?

I don't get it. What makes open-source work is a community of use in which there is a consistent transparency of the source code and people can solve interesting problems. We've learned that lesson very painfully after acquisition and putting software out into the community and getting no traction around it. It's gnarled and potentially not well-written and well-documented and well-supported code. It's not like you can back up the truck, as many companies have found out. It's a part of the DNA to be committed to this development model, to be committed to the practices of open-source, to have it be a part of your core culture.

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