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Open source is disruptive, it develops rapidly, is adopted quickly, and it efficiently meets market needs while enabling new market capabilities. These were some of the statements made at an open source symposium held in Western Australia (WA) in early October.

The WA Department of Industry and Resources put on the symposium, held at the University of Western Australia, in partnership with the Western Australian Supercomputer Program.

Organisers said it was a successful event with over 60 high-level executives from various industry sectors, universities, and all levels of government attending.

Speakers included Jeff and Pia Waugh, from Waugh partners, Michael Carden, from National Archives of Australia, Mahendra Singh from National Australia Bank and Grant Allen from Google, Kevin Wilson from IBM Software Group, Trevor Denton from Unisys and Craig Nielsen from Red Hat.

We managed to catch up with Red Hat ANZ Alliances Manager Craig Nielsen after the event to find out where he thinks the Open Source industry stands and where the market is heading.

Q: You spoke at the symposium about the disruptive nature of open source and how open source innovation has been successful, both in terms of meeting market needs and offering new capabilities. What exactly do you mean by disruptive?

A: By disruptive I use the [Clayton] Christensen definition of the expression, which means that we have addressed market requirements in the operating system platform and middleware platform space at a significantly lower price point creating a disruptive technology effect. Our open source business model enables us to deliver high quality, feature rich software platforms with a completely different set of economics compared with a proprietary software model.

Q: How successful has this "disruption" been?

A: IDC reports more than 21% of all servers run Linux and it is the fastest growing server environment. Apache has 65% of the web Server market according to Netcraft, Mozilla has 12% of the market and it is growing fast according to Onestat. Jboss has over 37% of the application server market according to BZ Research.

Q: What are some examples of the new capabilities that open source development has addressed?

A: Open source is standards driven and increased adoption of standards across all layers of the software stack means that companies using open source are not locked into proprietary vendors and solutions. This is good for customers since if we remove the "lock in" factor, and vendors will be forced to compete on the basis of the value they create for customers.

Access to the source code is important for some organisations. Good examples are government, defence and security-sensitive agencies and telcos. Technology has become core business for many industries and they increasingly value the ability to review the source code from an auditing perspective. For example, would it make political sense for a government to build or buy an open source voting system so that there could be no secrets as to how the voting system worked from any perspective?

Organisations may choose to make changes to the code or packages they choose to implement. It gives them a layer of control that proprietary software doesn't.

So we believe Red Hat, and open source products in general, give customers the capabilities of choice and transparency, both of which seem to be diminishing in a rapidly consolidating IT environment.

Q: What were some of the questions about open source technologies that came from attendees at the WA symposium?

A: Attendees were interested in how vendors could assist in overcoming their internal barriers to open source adoption which they felt was largely driven by a lack of understanding of the open source business model at a senior exec level.

Organisations raised questions about open source skills and in the case of Linux how easy it would be to retrain technical folks like Unix administrators.

[My answer for this is that] it's very easy for Unix administrators to re-skill as most of the concepts are similar and Unix like in Linux.

Attendees were also interested in finding our where they could search for open source applications, and they were interested in understanding how Open Source vendors could assist them with pilot projects.

Q. From your industry observation and discussions with business, what barriers still exist that hinder open source adoption by business and government?

The challenge in answering this question is that open source offerings differ in terms of their maturity and the problems they solve, therefore the barriers to adoption will vary based on the solution.

Three years ago many organisations did not have an open source strategy even though open source was used in many parts of their business. Today that has changed substantially with most large organisations having defined a Linux strategy and in many instances a broader open source strategy.

From a Red Hat perspective we have moved from "early adopters" a few years ago to "mainstream adoption" right now. We believe we have the economics, technology and partnerships right. Together with our partners, we work to ensure that we make the customer transition to Linux as painless as possible and have announced a program where we will share services frameworks and best practices with our partners to ensure predictable and repeatable services outcomes for companies looking to move to Linux.

Traditionally, skills have always been an issue when transitioning to new technologies, so we have focused heavily on developing skills around our platforms. Australia has, for its size, a disproportionately large number of Red Hat certifications by global standards. We're satisfied with that, but we plan to do more around skills development moving forward.

Many large corporations and governments recognise that due to their size, inertia is often a barrier to innovation. In response, some have created specific technology units tasked with creating opportunities for alternative technologies including open source.

A few governments such as South Africa have created an open source programme office across government to drive the adoption of open source as a strategy.

From a community perspective, the open source community in general needs to do more around communicating its utility to enterprises. CIOs are generally more risk averse than risk seeking and the community needs to understand that. We need to strike a balance between "cool" technology and "low risk" technology in our dialog with business.

Q: You spoke at the symposium about how fast open source software has developed. What are some examples of this?

A: This has differed by project. Linux began in 1991 and by the turn of the century had been adopted by Google as its core server platform as an example. The Apache project started in 1994 and by 1996 was the market leader in terms of market share. Both examples are pretty remarkable in terms of their speed of development and time taken to become relevant as enterprise platforms.

Q: Why do you think open source software has developed so quickly?

A: Prior to Linux, many organisations had implemented high cost proprietary Unix solutions for mission critical applications. Linux allowed organisations to deploy "Unix grade" solutions on commodity hardware at a significantly lower cost, and in many cases, with significantly higher performance. Red Hat's business model has allowed CIO's to adopt this technology and its associated benefits by providing enterprise lifecycle services for our platforms.

Companies for many years now have been abandoning high cost proprietary operating software and proprietary hardware and moving to Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

The demand is a function of solution relevance and the compelling value created by open source companies. At Red Hat, we have structured our business around delivering flexible global support and service offerings, a broad portfolio of ISV and OEM certifications for our platforms and a subscription-based business model. The first two allow enterprises to deploy and support Red Hat software at low risk and the subscription model is a superior commercial model helping customers reduce both capital and operational expenditures. Where is Linux adoption most concentrated?

According to Forrester Research from Q2 '06, the public sector and the finance and insurance sector were leaders when it came to Linux adoption. In terms of Linux use, 36 percent of the Australasian public sector is using Linux, and a further 18 percent of the sector is planning to use it in the next 12 months. Similarly, 27 percent of the finance and insurance industry is currently using Linux.

Q: Where is Linux in its deployment life cycle and how do you predict this will change in the next five years?

A: Late last year, Saugatuck Technology in conjunction with Business Week Research surveyed CIOs worldwide around mission critical business application data centre deployments on Linux. They specifically asked organisations where their Linux projects were in terms of lifecycle - essentially planning versus deployment. Fifty-one percent of all organisations said they were using or planning to use Linux in their data centres over the next five years. Of those 51 percent, 31 percent said they currently had projects in planning or proof of concept phases with 20 percent saying they had already deployed Linux in their data centres. By 2011, 45 percent of organisations intend to have Linux in deployment in their data centres. We see many organisations globally and locally in advanced planning for new or additional applications running on Linux. Growth in Linux adoption is extremely strong.

Q: What are some of the higher profile Australian-based organisations that Red Hat provides for?

A: Red Hat provides open source solutions for organisations across public and private sectors, including various levels of government and industries such as banking and finance, education, healthcare and telecommunications. A cross section of ANZ customers includes: National Australia Bank, Wotif.com, Europcar, New Zealand Post, Bartter Enterprises and Loyalty Pacific.

Q: What is the biggest drive right now for CIO's in adopting open source?

A: In our discussions with Australian CIOs we hear a common theme from them - a large backlog of value-creating projects, too much of their budget being consumed by platform maintenance and not enough budget left over to target at innovating the business process. Customers are moving to Red Hat to remove high cost proprietary components and replace them with proven enterprise platforms from Red Hat, which deliver lower cost of ownership.

Besides costs, CIOs are interested in Linux because of its built in security capabilities, Linux's ability to run on commodity, mid-range and mainframe (reduces lock-in), and sheer price / performance ratio, particularly for CPU and IO intensive applications. So in short, the more that companies use secure Red Hat platforms, the more they can free valuable IT budget to apply to application and business process innovation - the areas where IT can really make its contribution felt.

Q: Are OEM and ISV ecosystems critical to the successful adoption and development of open source?

A: Absolutely. We at Red Hat are passionate about making sure that customers can use the applications they want and the hardware they choose on Red Hat platforms. We currently have over 3,000 certified applications which run on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and this number continues to grow rapidly as more and more local and global ISVs (independent software venue) look to certify their platforms on Red Hat. The large OEMs have been certifying on and shipping Linux for many years. Our close relationship with these two communities gives customers the confidence to implement Red Hat Enterprise Linux. We are equally committed to making sure that application developers have the appropriate tools and developer support to make sure that they can be efficient in building, testing and running Java based applications that run on our JBoss Application Platform.

Q: What are some examples, in your opinion of some successful local OEM and ISV partnerships that have driven open source adoption?

A: HP, Dell and IBM continue to work closely with us around Red Hat Enterprise Linux globally and locally. Our local OEM partners have for many years now offered sales, marketing and technical support for Red Hat platforms. For example, in August, HP recently announced a pilot program in Australia offering Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 Desktops in Australia pre-loaded on the HP dx2250. In the last few weeks we concluded a nationwide campaign with IBM Software Group in Australia around Lotus on Linux.

Q: There are a lot of ICT start-ups appearing at the moment. Is this an important market for Red Hat and why/why not?

A: Yes, yes and yes. There is some tremendous innovation happening in Australia at the moment and Red Hat is reaching out to many small ISV's and software appliance providers. We also see Australian SaaS (software as a service) providers as companies who we have a great value proposition for. These companies will be large consumers of technology and we look to partner with them early.

Q: Briefly, what are some ways you suggest that emerging ICT companies can best utilise open source technologies?

A: Either introduce open source incrementally or leverage it heavily at start-up.

Red Hat platforms are generally attractive to emerging ICT companies as they are cost sensitive. Also the partnering environment with large proprietary vendors has large costs of entry and is often very crowded.

Red Hat has targeted programs for service partners and local software developers to enable them to be successful in selling and deploying Red Hat based solutions. We would encourage emerging ICT companies to contact us and explore these programs further. Given that a significant proportion of the largest 200 organisations in Australia are Red Hat customers, we believe leveraging the momentum Red Hat has created in the market is valuable for emerging ICT companies.

Q: What in your opinion are some of the more successful open source business models?

A: We have been successful with our subscription-based model and sign-up, with approximately 10,000 new customers each quarter. We support business models that allow open source companies to build strong balance sheets whilst making strong contributions to open source projects and initiatives. Basing a business on the quality of its support is a bold model in the software world and demonstrates our commitment to making sure we offer our customers the best value for their dollar.

Q: In light of the current lawsuit with Technology Licensing Corporation and IP Innovation, and Ballmer saying that Red Hat uses IP owned by Microsoft, how can Red Hat ensure corporate customers that patent issues will not affect their business?

A: Red Hat's strategy remains firm in driving open source innovation and fully supporting our clients' businesses by giving them the choice and freedom on how their open source architecture is built. We remain completely confident in our technology and in our protection for clients. The protection of our clients is a top priority, and Red Hat provides the most comprehensive intellectual property coverage for open source software that is available. The Red Hat Open Source Assurance program protects our clients in two ways. One is in business continuity - Red Hat offers assurances of uninterrupted use of its technology solutions. We also offer indemnification against claims by any holder of software patents.