Red Hat CEO: We've Entered A New Era Of Collaborative Innovation

The open source community has become a greater engine of information technology innovation than have traditional, proprietary sources of IT development, Red Hat president and CEO Jim Whitehurst said in his keynote speech Tuesday, opening his company's annual customer and partner conference.

And he warned IT executives face the threat of vendor lock-in if they choose to buy from vendors that continue to develop products using "closed, proprietary" processes.

"A technology choice around your cloud infrastructure today is an innovation model choice for the next decade," he said.

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"The paradigm around innovation, how we invent, how we create new things -- that paradigm is changing," he said during his speech at the Red Hat Summit in Boston. "We're moving from a world where most innovation, most creativity, happens by individuals or small groups of people within one company, to truly open innovation, to mass collaboration, to crowd sourcing."

Red Hat always has been a standard bearer for the open source community, with its distribution of the Linux operating system and other open source products such as its JBoss middleware.

Whitehurst argued that the community approach to development that's been a hallmark of open source software is fast becoming the new paradigm for all innovation -- not just in technology, but also in such areas as health care and education.

"We're literally looking at a new paradigm for how we create things," the CEO said. "We've hit an inflection point where we're actually seeing more innovation happening in information technology in open communities than we're seeing in traditional proprietary communities."

"I would argue that today most transformative innovation we're seeing is coming out of open [source] communities," he said, pointing to the Hadoop big data platform, the Cassandra NoSQL database, and other open source technologies.

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Why now? Much of what Whitehurst called the innovation paradigm shift is due to the exploding use of social media and other crowd-sourcing technologies that allow what he called "mass collaboration."

"The technology finally exists to allow mass collaboration," Whitehurst said, citing the Internet and social media. While before inventors and entrepreneurs largely guessed what customers wanted, today customers can participate in the innovation process. And what Whitehurst called "the social structure," or norms that have grown up around open source communities, have fostered an environment for collaborative innovation.

The new environment applies not just to individuals, but to companies as well. Whitehurst pointed to the participation in the OpenStack cloud computing project that lists IBM and Hewlett-Packard among its backers. "You rarely get IBM and HP on the same page for anything," Whitehurst said.

"The sum total of what you can see in the pace of innovation is truly extraordinary," he said.

Some vendors, whom Whitehurst didn't specifically name at first, continue to develop products in a closed, proprietary way. "There are a couple of vendors out there saying: 'Trust us, we're going to do this ourselves,'" he said.

"Cloud has the potential to be the mother of all lock-ins," the CEO said, this time specifically mentioning rival Oracle by name.

"Everything we do is open," he said of Red Hat. "We believe in the model, we're passionate about the model, we're all in. We've created a viable competitor to the traditional proprietary stacks." And he said open source is quickly becoming the "default choice" for cloud computing.