Participation trumps technology in cloud: Red Hat CEO

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst spoke on cloud community issues at RHNAPC

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. – The cloudy nature of the future of the cloud means that the participation model for cloud communities is more important that technology roadmap as it stands now, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst told partners Tuesday morning.

Whitehurst, kicking off the company’s Red Hat North America Partner Conference here, advised solution providers that when choosing where to make their cloud bets, they’ll be better served by working with communities that are more open, more participatory, and more flexible to changing market needs and technology requirements.

The various cloud “camps” have included vendor-centric ones (Microsoft and VMware among them), as well as varying degrees of open communities including OpenStack, CloudStack, and Eucalyptus. And in Whitehurst’s estimation, the modes of participation and activity within those communities is more important than the technology road map at this point in time.

“Clous is just messy. Anyone who tells you how cloud computing is going to play out is really smart, really arrogant, our lying to you,” he told attendees.

That’s in good part because cloud, more so than any technology movement in history is being driven by multiple party, including both IT vendors and the traditional users of IT. And the lines between the two are rapidly eroding – consider an Amazon Web Services or a Google, which is both a technology vendor in the traditional sense, and a massive user of IT in another. This model where innovation comes in increasing part from the users of IT is a familiar place for Red Hat, which has focused on open source technologies from its inception. And its experience suggests that the communities that are the most open and innovate the fastest are the ones that survive in the long term.

“You might have loved BSD as a technology, but guess what, Linux has already won that battle,” he reminded attendees. So too could it be in the cloud, where Whitehurst questioned whether any single vendor stack could ultimately keep up with multi-vendor stacks like OpenStack, which includes the support of Red Hat, Cisco, HP, Intel, and IBM, among others.

Of course, having all of those different interests adding their feedback to the mix for the future of a technology can also introduce more than its fair share of challenges – the direction that Cisco wants to steer, for example, may be different from the way HP or IBM want to steer. That’s why the structure of a community becomes so important in Whitehurst’s estimation – how innovations are recognized in the community, how issues of different directions are handled. He advised avoiding any community that cleaves too closely to any one vendor’s agenda and priorities, or where any one vendor exerts undue control or influence over the standard’s direction.

“Open communities are becoming a more and more important part of how innovation occurs,” Whitehurst said. “Almost every innovation in big data, cloud management, and SDN is coming out of users and communities.”

He urged the company’s partners to make cloud more than a passive technology where simply resell the offerings of their vendor partners. That means building services and solutions around various components, but just as importantly, it means solution providers getting involved in setting the agenda and driving the direction of these communities, as well as partnering closely with vendors who play a significant capacity in the same roles.