IBM President James Whitehurst Talks Red Hat With IBM Partners

‘When we look at the size of this market going forward, it’s billions and billions,’ Whitehurst tells IBM Business Partners during a PartnerWorld session of the Think Digital conference.


IBM’s new president, James Whitehurst, learned a thing or two about scaling open infrastructure ecosystems in more than a decade running Red Hat.

That experience is informing Whitehurst’s new role, one he told IBM Business Partners on Tuesday combines two functions: overseeing a software portfolio that weaves IBM’s cloud and cognitive technology with Red Hat platforms; and shaping the corporate strategy that will propel those joint solutions in a booming market.

The combined, and increasingly integrated, portfolio gives IBM and its channel a leg up in the crucial hybrid cloud market, the size of which, looking forward, will be “billions and billions,” Whitehurst said during an online PartnerWorld session of the IBM Think Digital conference.

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[Related: New IBM CEO: Red Hat’s Hybrid Platform Enables Big Blue’s AI, Cloud, Edge Strategy]

IBM will win the hybrid cloud battles to come, Whitehurst said, by leveraging the open, agnostic platforms it attained from its $34 billion Red Hat buy.

When Red Hat built the default Linux operating system for powering mainframes and enterprise servers, it learned a key lesson: a broad ecosystem of partners was necessary to accelerate that business. Red Hat then extended that lesson to OpenShift, the Kubernetes platform that is now the lynchpin of IBM’s hybrid strategy, he said.

Those two platforms position IBM as the only company working to deliver hybrid cloud with a single architecture that allows applications to run anywhere—from the data center to any public cloud to edge computing environments, Whitehurst said.

“We are hyper-focused on the platform and the sets of applications that can run on top of that,” he told IBM partners.

To that end, IBM has released a series of Cloud Paks that package IBM middleware in containers managed by OpenShift. But the channel opportunity in bringing those integrated technologies to market goes well beyond reselling—building unique IP and offering specialized services is critical to success.

IBM just overhauled its PartnerWorld program to help partners make that transition through new Build and Service tracks that are geared to drive new revenue streams accordingly.

“We bring a unique set of skills to partner with you, work together to create unique solutions for our joint clients,” Whitehurst said.

IBM’s new president appears intent on modernizing how the enterprise tech giant leverages its robust ecosystem, said Darrin Nelson, vice president of software sales at Sirius Computer Solutions.

It was important—and expected—for Whitehurst to restate to partners IBM’s position that Red Hat technology promises true workload portability, Nelson said.

Hopefully that vision will remain the new norm for IBM—empowering partners with the combined capabilities of the open source Red Hat stack and IBM’s distributed computing platforms.

It “raises the bar of what IBM partners can use to solve for our mutual customers’ desired business outcomes,” Nelson told CRN.

During Tuesday’s PartnerWorld session, Whitehurst noted that the company he previously led was in the “ecosystem building business.”

Red Hat developed platforms “that define generations of computing,” Whitehurst told IBM partners. And “one of the things we recognize at IBM is when there’s such a massive, rapid amount of change, how computing architectures develop is important.”

Innovation is coming from many specific places, he said. And customers can only ingest a lot of it if their applications can be built once and run anywhere.

While IBM certainly has its own public cloud, as well as on-premises Z Systems mainframe and Power server infrastructure, “we also work with other public clouds in this horizontal infrastructure,” Whitehurst said.

When IBM acquired Red Hat, it “was quintupling down on that vision,” Whitehurst told partners.

The Red Hat deal made IBM incredibly relevant in the public cloud market, said Timothy Kreytak, CEO of Ironside, a Boston-based data analytics specialist in IBM’s channel.

To build on that momentum, it’s important for IBM to motivate its channel, as Whitehurst discussed at a high-level in his PartnerWorld talk, to focus on using OpenShift and other Red Hat platforms for “providing the Legos, the pieces we can use to build solutions and take them to market,” Kreytak told CRN.

Whitehurst will play an important role in that evolution, Kreytak said, as his tenure leading Red Hat instilled in him an understanding of how to incent the channel to invest in developing specialized skills.