Red Hat CEO rallies partners around OpenStack, OpenShift

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst

ORLANDO – Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst likes to talk about “high-class problems,” the kinds of issues that companies like to be solving. The latest such a problem he sees facing his company: too much high-value opportunity, and not nearly enough skilled resources to meet that opportunity. He’s looking to his channel partners to help solve that problem.

Speaking to at the company’s North American Partner Conference here, Whitehurst said he needs partners to “build their capabilities,” particularly around the company’s emerging open source technologies, with a particular focus on its OpenStack and OpenShift offerings.

“You would be amazed at how few people there are with competence to build an OpenStack environment at any material scale,” Whitehurst said. “And there are a lot fewer still that can build out OpenShift infrastructure. The only thing holding back OpenStack and OpenShift today is the ability of skilled resources to deploy them.”

While the company does maintain a services arm to help address that problem, Whitehurst said the company does not want to ramp up the kind of services juggernaut it would need to meet the opportunity it sees around these technologies. The company, he says, is still a software company, and is fortunate to be in a space where it can make solid margins in doing so. It has seen its services business grow more slowly than its products business, and that’s been done with intent.

“I don’t want to start saying ‘We don’t have enough OpenStack and OpenShift expertise.’ We’re not a services company,” Whitehurst said. “We need our partners to invest and build those capabilities.”

The call from the CEO matches the tone of his channel chief, Mark Enzweiler, who detailed the vendor’s plans to help partners build out practices around high-vlaue open source technologies in their businesses. Whitehurst said partners who do make that sometimes uncomfortable transition will be well rewarded over the last five years, describing massive interest in open source technologies for cloud technologies.

Whitehurst’s message also matches the tone of the conference, where a big point of discussion has been the transition of open source in general, and Red Hat in specific, from commodity to innovation as its moved from selling Linux as a way to reduce a company’s overall spend on infrastructure to selling an integrated stack of open source technologies that Red Hat believes will form the basis of those companies’ application strategy moving forward. It’s a change that Whitehurst said is already making Red Hat and its partners more strategic to customers, but is also meaning that customers are expecting more, and deeper, services and engagement from them to make those transitions real.

Of course, for partners there is always the chicken and the egg issue around such a transition. Whitehurst urged partners not to wait until customers are ready to go into production with OpenStack and OpenShift to build their skillsets, because when customers move, he said, they’re going to move quickly, and partners who aren’t ready risk being left behind.

“We have partners who are stepping up, but we would like to see ten times as many doing so,” he said.

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