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"Software is eating the world."

- Marc Andreessen, 2011

A decade ago, Marc Andreessen proclaimed that software was eating the world. This came at a time when social media start-ups were just metamorphosing into giants, and cloud computing was still very much emerging technology. The software revolution introduced a wave of innovation and approaches that have fueled transformation across industries.

"Open source keeps eating the world."

- Deutsche Bank, 2015

A few years later, this statement changed: Open source software was eating the world, with Deutsche Bank noting in 2015 that there were "open source rivals for almost every major infrastructure and data management software market." Red Hat has always believed in open source innovation; it’s what makes us Red Hat. Seeing the industry embrace open source development models has been exciting. More open source alternatives, and more contributions to open source projects is always a good thing as it results in more choice and better innovation faster.

From there, as the saying goes, "things escalated quickly."

"Every company is a software company."

- Almost everyone in technology, 2016-today

Digital transformation started to take hold, apps were king and every company became a software company. Retailers like Walmart and equipment manufacturers like John Deere opened innovation labs emphasizing application development, frequently iterating on open source software that was then contributed back to communities and driving open source as the currency of a digital age.

But now, 2020 and the pandemic have made it clear that we can’t just build applications - we need to be in charge of running them too. COVID-19 forced organizations to accelerate their digital transformation efforts to drive new innovation and meet customer demands. In fact, our 2021 State of Enterprise Open Source Report saw digital transformation jump to one of the top three uses of enterprise open source alongside IT modernization and application development. The prominence of cloud computing and always-on services means that enterprise organizations are leaning more and more on the hybrid cloud as their operational model. Blending services from multiple public clouds into existing datacenter infrastructure and on-premises workloads while extending out to the edge is building a hybrid cloud and it’s no small feat - this requires new skills, new tools and new strategies.

In short, it is not enough to view every company as a software company. Now, every CIO is a cloud operator.

Am I saying that every enterprise organization is the next hyperscaler? Absolutely not. But think about the combination of hardware, applications, virtual environments, existing cloud services and associated infrastructure overseen by the average CIO. It may not be on the same scale as what we think of as "cloud" but that doesn’t make it any less of one. Our datacenters are on track to be composed of potentially hundreds of unique clouds, and every organization will need to have the platforms, tools, processes and people to effectively operate across these diverse landscapes.

Every CIO and their respective organizations must understand that they control their own cloud destiny. We know how to build for the cloud, but now we need to know how to run the cloud at scale.

It’s about cloud services AND applications

Since I started in IT, "choice" has been a crucial component of IT decision-making. A CIO neither plans in a vacuum nor just for today. IT leadership has to forecast how a decision that may seem simple right now could deliver nightmarish complexity, an inability to compete or non-compliance with evolving industry regulations. This means choice and flexibility were key considerations in years past, but they remain even more important today even as CIOs embrace their role as cloud operators.

Going all in on cloud services might seem easy, but as an all-in strategy, it is a future bet few CIOs are making to give themselves ultimate flexibility for a fast changing world. Maintaining a large datacenter that is not only spread across multiple locations but now also multiple clouds requires a highly-skilled IT workforce and can incur significant costs. Taking a hybrid approach offers balance, both technologically and economically, but without a consistent hybrid cloud foundation, there are extensive complexities in blending on-premises and cloud services along with the risk of incompatible stacks.

There’s no single right answer for every CIO as a cloud operator, just as there was no single right answer when "all" we had to worry about was building software. This is why choice and flexibility should underpin every decision we make - CIOs need to be able to develop, operate and secure hundreds, thousands or hundreds of thousands of workloads across multiple environments, an incredibly complex task that must not impact production or require siloed workstreams.

This makes it imperative that the next wave of IT solutions flow effortlessly across the hybrid cloud, from cloud service to datacenter applications and back. Whether it’s a managed service or an on-premises deployment, these workloads should be just that - workloads - that CIOs as cloud operators can run wherever, whenever and however they need to.

Going beyond the datacenter...and beyond the cloud

For CIOs that maintain traditional datacenters (and that’s nearly all of them), the notion of the datacenter is also expanding horizontally. While it’s no longer unusual to scale workloads and environments to the public cloud, the demands of modern applications and end users aren’t fully answered by centralized processing and analytics. The rise of edge computing comes hand in hand with 5G in telecommunications, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality, vehicles as datacenters and more, driving compute resources to the furthest edges of enterprise networks.

I’ve talked before about the two key delineating factors I see in edge computing:

  1. It simply does not exist without the hybrid cloud.

  2. The foundation of edge computing must be open or it will fail.

Cloud environments, datacenters and edge devices are all incredibly different footprints, each with unique needs around management, security networking and more. Cloud operators need a common foundation to span these diverse environments, just as they did to connect different cloud deployments, virtualized environments and hardware stacks. That common foundation was, is and will always be Linux and Linux containers.

For cloud operators, Linux provides the linkage between each footprint of the open hybrid cloud, including edge. Being able to move workloads from the edge to the datacenter to the public cloud without having to completely change each application is vital and made possible only through the open standards of the Linux kernel. Linux underpins the hybrid cloud, and it’s also the foundation of the furthest edge of enterprise IT.

Evolution is more than changing out software tools

Being a cloud operator, however, is about more than adopting and integrating new core technologies. It’s about understanding what’s needed above and beyond these technologies to further expand your cloud operations at scale, as well as gaining the skills internally to fully build, manage, maintain and secure these expanded environments.

Successfully deploying the underlying platforms for an open hybrid cloud strategy is one thing, but it brings more challenges: security, compliance, networking and management. A cloud isn’t a static deployment; it will change and it NEEDS to change to adapt to dynamic business needs and market demands. Understanding what your specific deployment requires now (and will require in the future) is a key to success for CIOs as cloud operators.

Finally, cloud operators need the skills internally to actually run their clouds, whatever definition of the term they choose to apply. Traditional IT skill sets will always be in demand, but it’s equally as important to nurture teams to learn and master new technology platforms as they build up an internal catalogue of tools and best practices that are vital to future success. A cloud operator building for sustainable success can’t outsource everything - some things you need to learn to do yourself.

This is also why I’m excited about the major partnership expansion Red Hat and Boston University announced today, focused on open hybrid cloud research and operations at scale and investments in programs intended to help build a next-generation talent pool skilled in open source and emerging technologies.

The new datacenter is the hybrid cloud, composed of bare-metal servers, virtualized environments, edge devices and potentially hundreds (or more) cloud services. CIOs are the newly-minted operators of these complex, vast cloud footprints, and they need the platforms, tools, processes and people to operate across these clouds.

Just as Red Hat was ready to help every company become a software company, we’re here to help CIOs adapt to the new world of cloud operations. The future is hybrid, and so are we.


About the author

Paul Cormier is president and CEO of Red Hat, the world’s leading provider of open source enterprise IT software solutions and services. Before being named president and CEO in April 2020, Cormier was president of Products and Technologies at Red Hat, driving major strategy shifts and expansion of the company’s portfolio of products and services.