Commitment to Open

March 4, 2011

by Brian Stevens, CTO, VP Worldwide Engineering, Red Hat

I joined Red Hat in 2001, naive yet undaunted about the potential to transform the IT industry through open source. Our engineering group at the time was no more than 50 people. How could our relatively small team compete in the land of giants? Simple. Because the license Richard Stallman wrote, and Linus Torvalds selected for Linux, nearly 20 years ago, and Linus’ benevolent leadership of the kernel since, was key in creating a model for open collaboration.

Nearly 10 years later, our engineering ranks have grown to over 1,000. Our customers see benefits which a decade ago were only an aspiration: better reliability, greater performance and scale, and solutions that are modular and manageable. All of which result in the transformation of commodity hardware into engines that power enterprises across the majority of the Fortune 500, while returning dollars back to the CIO for investment in their core business.

Our beliefs and policies around open collaboration have only strengthened. We are proud that we have been the top commercial contributor to great open communities such as GNOME and the Linux kernel. From those contributions, our company has benefited, our customers have benefited, our Linux-based commercial competitors have benefited, and the community at large is more vibrant.

Red Hat often talks about upstream first, the practice of openly developing kernel features and bug fixes as part of the most recent upstream kernel before we ship them in Red Hat Enterprise Linux. We know the value of getting code open from day one, debating it in the public forum, and letting it mature through a cycle long before it reaches our customers’ data centers. As the kernel community is well aware, it is standard practice for Red Hat to submit fixes that we find in supporting our customers.

We believe that the open source development model produces the best software on the planet, and Red Hat will continue to increase the resources invested in openly developing software. Furthermore, we maintain that our business is ‘not about the bits’. Rather, our business is to provide services to our customers under a subscription model. This includes proactive streams of security, bug fixes, features, and hardware enablement, supported in many cases for up to 10 years after the initial release. We also provide support delivered over the phone, but increasingly online and through our forums. This includes documentation, reference architectures, tips & tricks, best practices, and developer podcasts. The purpose of this knowledge is to enable the success of our customers.

Recently, Jonathan Corbet, respected kernel community member and editor at LWN, commented on our change in kernel RPM packaging. When we released RHEL 6 approximately four months ago, we changed the release of the kernel package to have all our patches pre-applied. Why did we make this change? To speak bluntly, the competitive landscape has changed. Our competitors in the Enterprise Linux market have changed their commercial approach from building and competing on their own customized Linux distributions, to one where they directly approach our customers offering to support RHEL.

Frankly, our response is to compete. Essential knowledge that our customers have relied on to support their RHEL environments will increasingly only be available under subscription. The itemization of kernel patches that correlate with articles in our knowledge base is no longer available to our competitors, but rather only to our customers who have recognized the value of RHEL and have thus indirectly funded Red Hat’s contributions to open source that will advance their business now and in the future.

As an open source company, Red Hat is held to high standards. We embrace this. In 2011 you can expect us to increase our investment in open source contributions, while simultaneously competing with companies who are threatened by the continuing disruptive advancement of open source in the enterprise.

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