7 Open Source Questions With Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst

I recently had a chance to sit down over a Thai food lunch with Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst.

Whitehurst, who took over Red Hat after leaving Delta Airlines in 2007, had a lot to say about the current situation of open source computing, and ReadWrite will be following up on many of those threads in the coming weeks and months. But I didn't want to wait to share some of Whitehurst's most interesting observations:

1. How Does Open Source = Kaizen Manufacturing?

Whitehurst compared open source software development to the Kaizen "continuous-improvement" manufacturing system made famous by Toyota. According to Whitehurst, open source is the digital equivalent of breaking up the manufacturing process into key individual components and using just-in-time inventory to make sure you have the right re-usable objects at hand when you need them.

2. What's Up With Red Hat & OpenStack?

Red Hat has promised to have support for OpenStack ready in the next year, Whitehurst reminded me, and remains on track to deliver. "But until then, I would be hesitant to run production apps on OpenStack… We're not seeing much more than experimentation with it for now."

3. Who Makes Key Enterprise Architecture Decisions?

Surprisingly, Whitehurst claimed that neither Red Hat nor enterprise CEOs typically make key IT architecture decisions.

For Red Hat, the company usually has little input on whether a customer will go with Linux. "Generally that's an architecture decision that's already made when Red Hat gets involved," Whitehurst explained. We've been a layer player… We haven't had a seat a the table for the architecture discussion."

Even more interesting, an enterprise's technology partners make the vast majority of the technology decisions, Whitehurst said, not the end customers. That's true at even the largest companies.

4. When Do CIOs Get Involved?

According to Whitehurst, only at those few companies that actually use technology for competitive advantage - like an investment bank - do the CIOs get involved in the technology decision. At Delta Airlines, Whitehurst's previous employer, for example, the decision to use Linux and the JBoss application server was made way down the IT org chart.

5. What Factors Go Into IT Technology Decisions?

"80% of technology decisions are not made on the merits of the technology," Whitehurst claimed. It's more, do we have the people to run it and support it? Is there an app infrastructure for it? What skill do our in-house developers have or need? And, crucially, what's the risk?

6. How Do Smaller Companies Make Their Technology Decisions?

For small businesses, they typically choose by the ability to find people to support the technology, Whitehurst said, because they can't afford to devote scarce resources to training. That's a big advantage for Microsoft, which has already trained legions of MCSE's around the world.

7. What's The Real Difference Between Enterprise And Consumer Technology?

"Enterprise IT sees the glass half empty," Whitehurst said. "Consumer IT sees the glass half full." Technologists in the consumer space have "bravado," he added. "It's okay for them to fail; they just try again. We need some more of that in the enterprise." That won't necessarily be easy, though, because the enterprise world faces such different challenges. Enterprise problems are so mundane, it's like trying to take spaghetti and unravel it… but the guy who wrote the original code "literally died" and they have to figure out what to do, Whitehurst explained. "That's their lives."

Image courtesy of Red Hat.