Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Open Source Big Dog: Red Hat or Sun?

So my question is simple: Who is the open source big dog?

The answer to the question as stated is likely IBM.
You're welcome Savio. :-) IBM, of course, benefits nicely from its investments in Apache and Eclipse and has done a lot to make Linux what it is today. But IBM is not betting the farm on open source, so let me tweak my question to be:

Who is the open source [as a business] big dog?

The answer really boils down to Red Hat vs. Sun.

Red Hat is the incumbent big dog, of course. They have a nice portfolio of Linux and JBoss Middleware offerings. And Red Hat's financial performance last fiscal year was quite impressive.

Red Hat however continues to suffer from [re]breathing its own air. "Red Hat Announces Improvements in Organizational Alignment to Focus on Top Priorities" just underscores Red Hat's "business as usual" approach.

The above "news" simply talks about how folks like Cormier and Pinchev (long-time executive team members) will "Assume Responsibilities to Enable and Accelerate Growth". Snore. I'd like to think that that's been their focus for the past few years.

They've clearly done a great job convincing Jim Whitehurst (new CEO last January) that there's no need to add fresh talent to the team. Hey Jim, you already have the A-Team, so there's no reason to change things. Just look at last year's financial performance after all.

Call me naive, but while Red Hat's financial performance has been quite good, the measure of "big dog" status needs to go beyond that. Red Hat can continue to grow nicely off of its Linux and JBoss Middleware businesses, but "big dogs" need to aggressively lead the charge into new areas. Which requires fresh blood with fresh ideas, in my opinion. Asking people who are good at executing on "business as usual" to aggressively expand into new areas does not work.

Meanwhile....Sun is busy marking its own territory in its quest to be the big dog.

Jonathan Schwartz's recent statements make Sun's strategy pretty clear:
"Everything Sun delivers will be freely available, via a free and open license (either GPL, LGPL or Mozilla/CDDL), to the community. Everything. No exception."

Sun sponsors a portfolio of open source technologies arguably wider than Red Hat's portfolio...from OpenOffice to Java to NetBeans to Glassfish to OpenSolaris to...

The acquisition of MySQL.

Sun not only added a database to their footprint, they added a great team (Marten Mickos, Zack Urlocker, etc.) with a strong open source pedigree. If Jonathan Schwartz manages the acquisition and integration properly, he will listen to and value the input from the MySQL team. MySQL's success and market momentum has been impressive and Sun finally seems to have a better appreciation of the importance of momentum and what it means to lead the market.

Matt Asay's article entitled "Ubuntu + Sun = Very good idea" expands further:
"But Sun does recognize the importance of momentum for it right now, and it wants the favor of open-source developers pulling its way. With MySQL and Ubuntu in its court, it's hard to see how it could possibly be less sexy in the market."

While Sun is making great strides, I need to see more from them before I entirely buy into their ability to execute. Sun's open source portfolio doesn't have enough #1's in it to overtake the current top dog. Moreover, Sun has historically stumbled and fumbled in executing on its software strategy. The transition from McNealy to Schwartz, who has been leading Sun into new areas, came just in time. But I still need to see more. While Sun gets "community"...they don't have a strong history of success in the software business. And their commitment to open source almost came too late.

So for now, my answer to the question "Who is the open source [as a business] big dog?" is:

Red Hat

But Red Hat needs to realize that past success does not guarantee future dominance. Red Hat needs to improve its ability to grow into new areas. It needs to make its ability to expand its footprint a strategic weapon.

Focusing purely on business as usual may yield some solid results over the coming year, but will ultimately result in decreased momentum...

...and the crowning of a new open source big dog.


UPDATE ON MAY 1:
I got some private emails about this post. I believe Matt Asay hit the nail on the head in his "Former JBoss executive to Red Hat: Don't rest on your laurels".

This post is purely based on my desire to see Red Hat step up and lead. And I mean lead beyond Linux. To Matt's point...a response of "we already are" just proves they are missing the point entirely.

Frankly, IBM, HP, Oracle and others set the table for the Linux market (years ago, they all poured a ton of marketing $$'s and other resources into putting the "Enterprise" in Linux). Yes, Red Hat did a lot too, but they benefited greatly from the sugar daddy investments in the Linux market.

Red Hat's move into middleware (i.e. beyond Linux) illustrates the fact that those same sugar daddies are likely NOT interested in helping Red Hat market themselves beyond Linux. It is up to Red Hat to prove it can do that themselves. And they need to prove that they can do it beyond middleware as well.

So, yes, execution is very important, but maintaining and increasing momentum is critical! Otherwise your competitor with the mojo will be more than happy to be the big dog. In this industry, it’s not an either or. If you want to stay on top, you need momentum and you need to execute.

And as Matt stated: "this isn't intended to be a rant against Red Hat." As the big dog, I simply expect a great deal from them....as should others.

4 comments:

SavRod said...

Great post Shaun. You couldn't be more right about IBM :-)

Agree that Sun has momentum, but Red Hat has execution. Fun times ahead to be sure.

Shaun Connolly said...

Thanks Savio. On your private email to me, you also added: "...you looking for a job at Sun ;-)"

I like that question. :-)
So let me answer it here in the open.

No way! Sun needs to prove it can execute in the software business….their past 10 years are not a good indicator.

However, the game is changing with cloud-based computing…so Sun’s strength (hardware) along with good enough software might be enough to catapult Sun into a much stronger position.

My blog post is purely based on my desire to see Red Hat step up and lead. And I mean lead beyond Linux. Frankly, IBM, HP, and Oracle set the table for Linux (years ago, they all poured a ton of marketing $$'s and other resources into putting the "Enterprise" in Linux). Red Hat did a lot too, but they benefitted greatly from the sugar daddy investments in the Linux market.

Red Hat's move into middleware illustrates the fact that those same sugar daddies are likely NOT interested in helping Red Hat market themselves beyond Linux. It is up to Red Hat to prove it can do that.

So, yes, execution is very important, but maintaining and increasing momentum is critical...otherwise your competitor with the mojo will be more than happy to be the big dog.

In this industry, it’s not an either or. If you want to stay on top, you need momentum and you need to execute.

RED said...

Red Hat Linux Certifications (Newbie)
http://career-assessments.blogspot.com/2008/01/red-hat-linux-certification-program.html

RHCE, RHCT, RHCA, RHCSS Aspirants
http://career-assessments.blogspot.com/2008/01/red-hat-linux-certification-program_26.html

RED said...

Sun Java Certification (Newbie)
http://career-assessments.blogspot.com/2008/01/sun-java-certifications.html

SCJA/SCJP/SCJD/SCWCD/SCMA/SCEA… Aspirants
http://career-assessments.blogspot.com/2008/01/sun-java-certifications-aspirants.html