Open source software and its associated culture of innovation and collaboration are now proving the difference in digital transformation, according to Jim Whitehurst, CEO and president of Red Hat.

Indeed he told media and analysts at the company’s annual conference in Boston this morning that open source is where innovation happens and and that enterprises are starting to work it out, creating a boom period in the market. 

During the company’s annual user conference in Boston, Whitehurst told Which-50 the value of open source has flipped from being a cheaper alternative to proprietary software to now being the home of innovation, often without proprietary alternatives.

“As the big web companies primarily started solving most of their infrastructure challenges in open source, open source has become where innovation happens first,” Whitehurst said.

“There is no proprietary equivalent of [open source software] used for agile and dev-ops. All of that’s in open source. So when that happened, [for] enterprises it was no longer a sourcing strategy – if I’m  going to use this or not. It was ‘I can’t do dev-ops without consuming open source. So now it’s not if it’s how you’re going to consume it.”

Red Hat CEO and president Jim Whitehurst. Source:

Whitehurst says the inflection point was around four or five years ago when tech giants shared some of the source code from the open software they had used to innovate. Others built on these foundations creating much of the technology innovations and working practices now common in digital natives. CIOs took notice, Whitehurst says, actively seeking open source solutions.

“That’s why you see almost every major vendor embracing open source. Because they have to, their customers are asking for it. In so many categories there literally aren’t any proprietary alternatives to the open source components out there.”

The best example is open source operating system Linux, according to Whitehurst.

“More and more Linux is the foundation. There are no AI [or] ML frameworks that don’t run on Linux. It starts to become the default choice, therefore, if you’re going to participate in innovation in all these areas. You have to consume open source.”

Red Hat offers its own version of Linux, releasing its highly anticipated 8th iteration today. Red Hat Enterprise Linux is an altered version of Linux for enterprise customers and accompanied by a host of support services, the latter being where Red Hat generates much of its revenue.

Open source culture

Red Hat was acquired by IBM last year for $34 billion in the biggest software deal ever. An immediate concern was the potential influence of the deal on Red Hat’s closely guarded culture.

Red Hat declined to speak at depth on The IBM acquisition because it is still awaiting regulatory clearance for the deal in several jurisdictions. But Whitehurst confirmed Red Hat’s previous claims the company will remain a separate entity and all of its current products will survive and won’t be deemphasised by Red Hat when they compete with IBM solutions.

The separation is also a move to protect Red Hat’s culture, one born out of more than two decades of open source collaboration and innovation, arguably a poor fit with IBM’s traditional focus on performance. Whitehurst told Which-50 the open source culture is increasingly being adopted by large incumbents in order to successfully digitally transform.

“I think that’s the exact issue that we are seeing; enterprises are realising digital transformation is not about the technology. It’s not even about agile and devops or methodologies,” Whitehurst said.

“It’s really about a culture change, a mindset change; a leadership philosophy change to be able to innovate at scale and at speed; to be able to compete with digital natives who grew up that way.”

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