Q&A: Red Hat's Jim Whitehurst Maps The Road To $5 Billion

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In a recent Q4 earnings call, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst informed investors that the Raleigh, N.C.-based software vendor reached a significant milestone in 2015: $2 billion in annual revenue.

While that's an impressive take for a company dealing exclusively in open-source technologies, Whitehurst's keynote at this week's partner conference in New Orleans looked well beyond that number.

Before sharing his long-term goal with partners, Whitehurst took some time to talk to CRN about why he believes his company will get to $5 billion in sales in the next five years.

[Related: Red Hat CEO To Partners: 'Each Of You Has A Piece Of $4 Billion']

That ambition is rooted in the potential Whitehurst sees for the future of the open-source movement; next-gen technologies that Red Hat is betting on big like OpenStack, Docker and Kubernetes; and a network of partners capable of delivering those open-source solutions to the enterprise market. To illustrate his points, Whitehurst generously peppered in thoughts on industry partners and competitors (for Red Hat, they're often the same), including Microsoft, VMware, Google, Pivotal, IBM and AWS.

Open-source has become the default methodology for building next-generation architectures that will serve the cloud and mobile era, he said, and that's why Red Hat can more than double its business in half a decade. Here, a Q&A with Whitehurst:

CRN: So you recently announced hitting $2 billion in revenue last year, which is kind of astonishing, given the nature of Red Hat's business. And the theme of your keynote ... is going to be the new goal you've set for the company of reaching $5 billion within five years. What is going to allow Red Hat to accelerate its growth going forward and double the size of the business?

J.W.: Red Hat's first decade, or really I'll say the first decade of RHEL [Red Hat Enterprise Linux], and RHEL came out in 2002, was very much about demonstrating open-source could be a viable alternative to traditional software.

So if you look at whether it was RHEL versus UNIX or Windows, or the JBoss stack versus WebSphere or WebLogic, we kind of got to the point where people said, OK, that's a viable alternative. What we're seeing in the cloud-mobile era, which I look at like client-server as just kind of one thing, the architecture of that, open source is the default choice.

If you say the default choice in the mainframe era was IBM and there were some alternatives, and the default choice in the client-server era was Wintel and there were some alternatives, the default choice in the cloud-mobile world is clearly open source.

What that means for us is we have a really nice tailwind of CIOs and senior IT leaders to come to us to talk about the pace of innovation. Because if you look at the major things happening in computing now, in terms of innovation, it's almost all happening in open source. Big data and analytics, everything is happening there. Containers, cloud management, orchestration, automation, all those things are happening first in open source. I'm not trying to pick on a partner because they're a great partner, but there's still not native support for containers in Windows, right? It's a Linux-based thing.

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