RHX: Lessons Learned

June 11, 2008

by RHX Team

We are just beyond the first year anniversary of RHX, Red Hat’s program for open source software vendors. Rumors of its death have been greatly exaggerated. RHX is different now. The team is smaller and the target market is different; but, fundamentally, RHX is smarter. It’s very much alive and is undergoing its third iteration. We’ve learned a lot along the way.

RHX LESSON 1: You don’t fully understand a problem until you try to implement the solution. [1]

The mission of RHX from the start has been to create a rising tide for the broader open source ecosystem. [2] We launched RHX at the May 2007 Summit by offering pre-integrated solution stacks with single-stop web support. RHN powered the delivery of bits. Our goal was to unlock demand in the vast small business market by pricing the solutions competitively and by making installation and support easier. You could even buy RHX solutions online!

Despite our research and planning, v1.0 of RHX was not the home run we anticipated. It turned out that enterprise customers, not small businesses, were most interested in RHX. In order to serve enterprises properly, we had to change almost every aspect of the offering. By September, we de-emphasized the e-commerce option [3], introduced high touch sales, 24×7 support, and custom stacks. We also built virtual appliances to make the trial process a little less painful. Within 90 days of these changes, we had a healthy sales pipeline.

RHX LESSON 2: Creativity loves constraint [4]

In January, the company reorganized the business that housed RHX. By February, the engineers that brought RHX to market (developed the website, built the solution stacks, created the virtual appliances, etc.) joined Red Hat’s core engineering team and began working on high priority projects related to virtualization. My role expanded from leading RHX to leading our broader software alliances (ISV) team. RHX became part of this team under the leadership of Jennifer Venable.

Jennifer wasted no time in refactoring RHX to accommodate our new reality. She retooled the support model, solution stack packaging, and trial process so that the program could continue with many fewer dedicated resources.

Once these changes were put in place, Jennifer and I turned to the next challenge: how on earth do we fulfill the RHX mission with a fraction of the prior budget? What followed seems so intuitive now that I’m shocked we didn’t think of it earlier.

RHX LESSON 3: When in doubt, remember the power of open source

All software companies want to decrease their product costs and increase their sales. What separates an open source vendor from a proprietary one is the way they go about achieving these goals. If a vendor doesn’t buy into the notion of community-driven development and testing, its development roadmap and bug backlog are limited by its payroll. If a vendor doesn’t embrace the power of frictionless access to bits, it must buy users with marketing dollars. Red Hat knows this. We wouldn’t exist without our community of users and developers. The community is the source of our competitive advantage. We have hundreds of sales and support people because we have thousands of community members…not the other way around.

RHX is now focused on helping the open source ecosystem grow sustainable businesses by implementing a truly community-leveraged model. We want to help our ecosystem partners transform communities of users and developers into their own source of competitive advantage. So what does this mean?

Development: If an ISV is going to open source its bits, we believe it should leverage the community for the full stack. That is, if an ISV is shipping a database-driven java application, it shouldn’t create its own version of Tomcat and MySQL. ISVs should use the components managed by the community.

Distribution: If an ISV uses proper packaging and employ an open source license, it can make its software available to millions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Fedora users.

A key feature of the RHX program is a roadmap for ISVs to take advantage of common components and package their software so that they are accessible to Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. As a bonus, ISVs that participate in the RHX program will get the benefits of Linux Automation: deployment of their software via virtual appliances, bare metal, and the cloud.

RHX LESSON 4: Enthusiasm is an asset

One of the great things about Red Hat is the way that we aspire to lofty ideals: truth, authenticity, innovation, entrepreneurialism. A year ago, the RHX team stepped on a very public stage and took risks in order to create something new and useful. Did we make mistakes? Yes. [5] Did we do our best to live out Red Hat’s values of Freedom, Courage, Commitment, and Accountability. You bet we did.

From its inception, the RHX project has drawn passionate and creative people with a healthy appetite for risk. We all poured ourselves into the project because it was important and fun. Recently, RHX has grown beyond “FTEs” that are assigned to it. GDK, Karsten Wade, Spot Callaway and Paul Frields, among many others, have contributed their thoughts and ideas to the new path RHX is forging. And engineers and business folks at some of our ISV partners are participating by providing insights about where they need assistance and where guidelines need adjustment for different types of software.

Do you think leadership in the open source ecosystem is important to Red Hat’s future growth? Want to get involved? We can use your help. Specifically, we’re looking for Fedora folks who can help us guide our ISV partners through proper packaging and distribution practices. For those attending Summit and/or FUDCon, there are several ISV-focused sessions covering packaging. The easiest way to get involved is to join the fedora-isv-sig mailing list and start weighing in: https://www.redhat.com/mailman/listinfo/fedora-isv-sig-list

RHX is very much alive. And this iteration of RHX is not its last.

–Contributed by Matt Mattox.

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[1] Fans of Eric Raymond’s “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” might recognize this quote: “Plan to throw one away. You will anyhow. You don’t fully understand a problem until you’ve tried to implement a solution.” This applies to business offerings just as much as it does to coding.

[2] The full expression is “a rising tide lifts all boats.” We think it’s a great description of Red Hat’s potential to catalyze growth in the commercial open source ecoystem.

[3] It is curious that we’ve been unable to shake the notion that “RHX = web store for open source.” As far back as the 2007 launch event, we tried to emphasize that RHX was “more than a web store.” Check it out: http://www.redhat.com/promo/summit/2007/

[4] I first heard this phrase in a lecture given by Marissa Mayer of Google. So true. I once worked for a company that raised $1B USD, which, needless to say, imposed very few constraints.

[5] E-commerce may one day revolutionize the way enterprise software is sold. According to our experience, that day remains in the future.

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