Red Hat CEO: The Power Of Partner Communities

The IT industry is about to enter a period of rapid shifts just as significant as those that happened at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Navigating this inflection point will require vendors, ISVs and solution providers to work together.

The importance of partner communities, especially around open source, as a way for everyone to be successful in the coming "Information Revolution" was the top theme of both Red Hat and its President and CEO, Jim Whitehurst, at the 2013 Red Hat Partner Conference, being held this week in San Diego.

Whitehurst, in his keynote officially opening the conference, said the partner community was all-important to Red Hat.

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"You are in our mission statement. ... That mission statement was developed from the bottom up, not from the executives," he said.

Whitehurst, who called himself a student of history, said the current massive changes in the IT industry as it shifts away from physical assets to services and the cloud is every bit as significant as the shift the world saw at the dawn of the Industrial Age.

Between the years 1 A.D. and 1750, output on a per-capita basis grew a mere 50 percent, which Whitehurst said was essentially unchanged. During the start of the industrial revolution, from about 1750 to 1870, per-capita output doubled, he said. However, since 1870, it has consistently doubled every 30 years despite wars and economic depressions, he said.

Whitehurst said three things happened around 1870 to cause that massive shift, including the introduction of standardized parts, the development of the internal combustion engine, and the introduction of transport services.

Together, they made possible the introduction of mass production and the ability to transport goods from where they were made to where they were sold. "When those three things came together, we saw a revolution in output," he said.

Whitehurst said he would argue that the IT industry is starting to see the same situation today with the Information Revolution. This information is being driven by the Internet and mobility, similar to the "transport services" of the Industrial Revolution; by microprocessors, or the "engine;" and by cloud computing, or the "standardized parts."

NEXT: The Information Revolution Will Require Collaboration

"When those three things come together, now we're really talking about an Information Revolution," Whitehurst said. "It will be less defined by making things more cheaply and by figuring out how to make things more efficiently."

IT is no longer about augmenting physical assets to make a product, Whitehurst said. "Now, IT is becoming the product," he said.

The Information Revolution requires companies to find new ways to partner to be successful, Whitehurst said.

The traditional way to create IT, in which an individual or a single organization develops a process or an application, is similar in concept to how physical goods are produced, he said.

However, the software industry is characterized by an explosion of information and the ability to share that information, making it possible to collaborate as a community and showing the importance of the power of participation. "These companies developing software now can work together through open source," he said.

Whitehurst said such software developers are not open-source zealots. "They just say, 'I have a problem, and I don't have to solve it myself,' " he said.

For example, he pointed to big data, noting that there is not a single part of the big data ecosystem that was not solved using open source.

Going forward, companies such as Red Hat have to look at how to add value in a world where half or more of the information will be coming from open source and participation in communities, which will change everyone's roles.

Participation is deep in Red Hat's DNA, Whitehurst said. "We believe the world will be a better place because of participation," he said.

Solution providers who sat in on Whitehurst's presentation praised his use of the Industrial Revolution as an analogy to describe the imminent Information Revolution.

Whitehurst's analogy was a real eye-opener, especially when he talked about comparing cloud computing to standardized parts, said Mark Gonzalez, regional vice president of sales for ePlus Technology, a Herndon, Va.-based solution provider and Red Hat partner.

Red Hat's focus on open source is essentially harvesting everyone's brains to develop the standardized parts, he said. "Red Hat was open before open was cool," he said. "They brought structure where there could have been chaos. They were able to bring out products that no one else could do."

NEXT: Driving Home The Information Revolution Message

Also seeing the value of Whitehurst's analogy was Eric Ng, vice president of sales at Scalar Decisions, a Toronto, Ontario-based solution provider and Red Hat partner.

"We are now in the Information Revolution," Ng said. "We're building the foundation for it now. That message really hits home."

Everything Whitehurst said about the importance of community is true, Ng said. "It's true to the philosophy of Red Hat about the community being stronger than the individual," he said. "That message resonated well with partners sitting in the audience. We want to be part of it."

The message certainly resonated with Dean Bedwell, director of new business development and software solutions at OnX Enterprise Solutions, a Toronto, Ontario-based solution provider and services provider.

"When you can take something from history and make it relevant for today, it's real," Bedwell said. "I agree with Whitehurst that we are at a point of inflection for the Information Revolution."

Bedwell also noted that other Red Hat executives said that while the company is an open-source leader, it has only developed 11 percent of the code being used. "It gives you the sense that this is not all about one company," he said. "It's about collaboration. And Red Hat is focused on driving growth with us."