When I think about the target customer for Red Hat products and services, someone seeking innovative technologies for driving digital transformation at organizational scale, I imagine a customer who looks an awful lot like the IT department at Red Hat. Our challenges mirror those of other IT departments around the world: IT optimization, agile integration, cloud-native application development, automation—these challenges impacting the way IT departments operate today.
On top of that, Red Hat has grown in the past five years, from roughly 5,700 associates to more than 12,500. Scaling that quickly has been an incredible (and important) stress test for the IT organization. As the needs of our people have changed, the way we assess the IT products we use has also matured.
That's why we've become one of Red Hat's most discerning customers, a role we take seriously. We feel strongly about using our products and services the same ways other Red Hat customers do. Recently we’ve decided to go a step further and create a more formal program around this strategy. We call it "Red Hat on Red Hat," and I'm pleased to report that to date we've implemented 19 of Red Hat's 26 core products (including Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Red Hat OpenShift and Red Hat Ansible Automation) into production environments. Now more than ever, Red Hat's business runs—and relies—on Red Hat.
Let me be clear: We're not just stress-testing our products internally before they ship. We're not simply (as I've heard folks in the open source community say) "dogfooding our stuff" to work out beta-level kinks.
We're using Red Hat products internally because we've determined they're the best tools for us to meet customers' needs, to unlock new sources of value and to maintain a high degree of operational excellence. In short, we use Red Hat products because we want to solve business problems—to realize the same benefits we seek to provide to other Red Hat customers.
Those benefits include:
Feedback on product roadmaps. Red Hat on Red Hat facilitates relationships with our products and technologies team, such that we're able to influence the scope and direction of Red Hat product roadmaps. Like any other customer, we weigh a number of factors when we're selecting the technologies we want to adopt ("Red Hat on Red Hat" doesn't mean "Red Hat by default!"). If a Red Hat product doesn't meet our needs, we can assume it may not be meeting the needs of other customers as well. We report our decisions and assessment criteria to our engineering organization so they can factor these needs into future product iterations. Ultimately this can benefit anyone using our products.
More authentic customer conversations. Red Hat on Red Hat opens a channel for dialogue with our sales organization and allows us to help our customers in a different way. Since we’re using our products in many of the same ways our customers are, we’re kindred spirits of sorts. We’ve likely been through what they’ve been through—and that helps us provide candid, helpful product feedback to our sales team. In addition, it allows us to offer our sales teams some advice on discussing those products with customers. My colleagues in sales tell me that one of the first questions customers ask them is "Do you use it yourself?" When we can unequivocally tell them we do, we can immediately enhance our credibility.
Technical enhancements. Because every Red Hat product is open source, my team can modify them to suit our specific needs. But each technical modification my team makes can benefit an ecosystem of customers, partners and communities using Red Hat products—not just Red Hat alone. This is a key motivator on my team. Associates are more likely to experiment and innovate when they know the code they're creating can have a life outside Red Hat's walls—when it can potentially make a larger impact.
While the Red Hat on Red Hat program is still in its early days, our focus on using Red Hat products internally has been a part of our strategy. It’s helping us achieve the same benefits we have seen other Red Hat customers enjoying: faster innovation, a more agile and responsive operating environment, and the flexibility to weather changes and challenges we're unable to predict.
Red Hat on Red Hat is our own defense against digital disruption. And that's more appealing than dog food.
Mike Kelly is executive vice president and chief information officer at Red Hat.