Three Minutes with Red Hat's Chief

New CEO brings passion and an eclectic background to help him chart a new course for the Linux vendor.

IDGNS: A lot of people have been critical of Red Hat for what it's done so far with JBoss, and think success with this is key to proving Red Hat can evolve beyond Linux. How are you going to make that business more successful?

Whitehurst: Obviously execution and commercial execution will be big focuses going forward [for JBoss]. We fundamentally changed the JBoss business model from a big consulting/support [business] to our enterprise/.org models that we had with REL [on the enterprise side] and Fedora [on the .org side]. It has, without a doubt, proven to be a very successful model, and one could argue it's about the only demonstrated successful model of any size with open source. In the same way we have Fedora and REL, we have the .org version of JBoss and the enterprise edition. JBoss had a different business model before, but we think our business model has proven the most successful and the most durable. It's the right decision. It just takes a while.

The good news of that also shows that it's not easy to develop a good business model around open source, so it's a relatively defensible model going forward. We feel very good about where JBoss is. ... We think we can grow twice as fast as the core REL business.

Red Hat's never been involved in any material way in the application components of the stack. We do provide a full open-source stack with the LAMP stack. We will continue to do that, so we're playing there to some extent. In terms of our focus and where we'll invest our team and attention and dollars, the [market for the] infrastructure component of software worldwide is close to $100 billion. We're a $500 million software company. I would argue we've barely scratched the surface. I'd much rather we make sure we make progress there than get into the CRM business. Once we've achieved our full potential in our core businesses, we can open the aperture. But I want to make sure the company is focused on the potential of our businesses in that core market.

IDGNS: Microsoft is coming out with Windows Server 2008 pretty soon. Do you see this as a good opportunity to snag Windows customers who may be thinking of upgrading and instead moving them over to Linux? Is there still competition in this space, or will it always be the Linux camp sticks with Linux, and the Windows camp sticks with Windows?

Whitehurst: We're seeing a lot of migrations from Microsoft to Linux, from Unix to Linux or even Unix to Microsoft. There's a big battleground out there. Anytime there is a significant upgrade or change, there is an opportunity for us. Anytime a customer stands back and says, "Let me reassess this" and "Do we want to upgrade?" that's great for us because our value proposition is much more compelling for our competitors. Whenever there is a reason for customers to reassess, that gives us an opportunity to show our value, so we'll be out there aggressively this year.

IDGNS: Much was made of Microsoft's interoperability deal with Novell in November 2006. Has that deal hurt Red Hat in any way? Do you even view Novell as a major competitor anymore?

Whitehurst: There may be a deal or two out there, but it hasn't come up to my level. We really don't see them that much in the market. They're not really a factor. Given our market share and certified ecosystems of partners – [those] really drive our position.

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Elizabeth Montalbano

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