Red Hat channel chief: Time to build an open source practice

Mark Enzweiler, senior vice president of global channel sales and alliances at Red Hat

Mark Enzweiler, senior vice president of global channel sales and alliances at Red Hat

ORLANDO – Red Hat’s global channel chief has a request for the company’s partners: it’s time for partners to build a real practice around open source.

Speaking to ahead of the company’s North American Partner Conference here, Mark Enzweiler, senior vice president of global channel sales and alliances at Red Hat, described a shift in the conversation his company and its partners are having with their customers. Gone are the days of convincing customers that open source is “for real” in the enterprise. Now everybody’s got an opinion on open source – not just Linux, but other major projects as well, most notably OpenStack. Now, they want to know more, and that means partners have to know more.

“There are so many opinions out there around open source – from our partners, from our competitors, from our co-opetitors. The chorus around OpenStack and open source more generally is incredible,” Enzweiler said. “[Partners are] going to be asked by customers what they think about open source, and they have to have a point-of-view, because the customer’s not going to stop asking.”

That point of view doesn’t have to be all Red Hat all the time, Enzweiler said, but partners have to be aware of the broader move towards open source as a way to enable innovation, not just a way to do core infrastructure cheaper. It also requires partners to go deeper across enterprise-friendly open source projects, and focus on driving more and deeper services around the technology. As open source gains ground as a way to drive innovation in the enterprise, it’s time for partners to build a true practice around it, Enzweiler asserted.

But surely, many Red Hat partners must already be there? After all, many of the company’s early partners were either dyed-in-the-wool open source enthusiasts or those visionary enough to see the value of a concept like Linux in the enterprise back when the biggest discussion point was about open source as “free software.” Not necessarily so, said Enzweiler, because the sales motions of selling Linux at volume and selling an enterprise innovation strategy based on open source technologies can be as different as selling desktop computers and building out a virtual desktop environment. In both cases, the latter requires a much deeper services focus. And some partners are still doing well with their “traditional” Red Hat business.

“Some of them are making the move, but we have these die-hard guys who’ve been here from the beginning and continue to be strong,” Enzweiler said. “How many of those guys are going to make the shift? There’s still plenty of money in selling subscriptions, dragging some services, and dragging hardware. They’ve got a solid annuity model, and some or them are saying ‘I’m good.’”

So the company is building much of the channel strategy for its just-begun fiscal 2016 around helping partners who do want to make that transition. Enzweiler said that includes significantly updating the training tools available on its Open Enablement channel portal, shifting where the company invests in sponsored headcount from focused around Enterprise Linux to around pre-sales resources around OpenStack, and forging alliances between large transactional partners and the more service-focused partners who can help customers realize cloud plans and visions. The company will also focus on quickly turning its own internal training and enablement tools around to partner consumables, particularly when it’s around thise focus area.

Overall, the company will increase the number of sponsored headcount it provides partners by about 50 per cent this year, he said, and will start offering more content around how its partners can build the open source practices it’s seeking. The investment in building partners’ open source practices will account for 40 per cent of the company’s investment in the channel this year.

“The customer evolution is moving faster than some of them are moving, so we’re going to give them a shot in the arm,” Enzweiler said. “Don’t miss this wave.”

Although he foresees some challenges in moving some of the company’s largest partners, who have built large and successful transactional businesses around RHEL, to much more services-heavy business model, Enzweiler said he’s “pretty optimistic” about the ability and willingness of the company’s partners to make the shift, which is particularly important for Red Hat, which is focused almost entirely on growing within its existing channel base.

“We haven’t added more than two or three [major] partners in the last few years,” he said. “We want to keep our base, grow their business, and help them get the annuity revenue.”

The effort has been buoyed by high-profile endorsements and support from other major vendors, Enzweiler said. “When you’ve got SAP, Dell, Cisco, and CA coming out and saying they think the Red Hat view of open source is correct, that really helps,” he said.