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New Red Hat CEO faces hybrid cloud challenges

Matt Hicks, now Red Hat CEO, and newly appointed Chairman Paul Cormier discuss the links between open source security and sustainability and Red Hat's hybrid cloud mission.

Red Hat's leadership is undergoing a changing of the guard, as Matt Hicks is promoted to CEO and Paul Cormier takes on a new role as chairman of the company.

Both will report to IBM CEO Arvind Krishna. Hicks' previous role as executive vice president of products and technologies will be split between Ashesh Badani, previously senior vice president of cloud platforms, who will become senior vice president of products; and Red Hat CTO Chris Wright, who will oversee the company's engineering organization.

As it shuffles its executives, the company is still working to get some of the same fundamental messages championed by Cormier across to enterprise IT pros about the nature of open source security and sustainability and hybrid cloud. Hicks and Cormier sat down with SearchITOperations to discuss how the company's strategy in these areas will evolve.

Why this transition, and why now?

Paul Cormier: I've been at Red Hat for 21 years, and when the [IBM] acquisition happened, I gave some thought to, well, maybe that was a good time [to change roles]. But there were a few things that really needed to be done first. IBM was bringing Red Hat in with a very different model than they were used to -- as a separate entity; there was a lot of work to be done for us to understand how we were going to work with IBM, how IBM was going to work with us, and getting that solidified was one of my major goals. Now that's well solidified. The second [thing] was, there was some senior management shuffling when the acquisition happened, and I felt that getting a good strong senior management team in place was important. We've got an amazing senior management team in place now. The third thing was, we always had a strategy, but we really had to get a much more in depth, documented strategy that the whole company could work across. We spent a lot of time over the last couple of years with that and that's what we execute to now. I think we're in great shape in all of those areas, and that's why now is a good time for this change.

Matt, what is your Day One priority in terms of the customer-facing aspects of the job and product strategy?

Matt Hicks, CEO, Red HatMatt Hicks

Matt Hicks: I'm in a pretty lucky position, where I've inherited a phenomenal strategy. My Day One priority is continuing to execute to that with enterprise customers in their journey to cloud and multi-cloud, being able to deliver in cloud services for us, and new models of how we deliver our products.

Paul said previously that Red Hat will be going SaaS-first with OpenShift. Is that part of what you plan to continue?

Hicks: I think we learned a lot going SaaS-first with OpenShift in terms of how we take core product innovation and deliver it in a new model to customers. Red Hat's unique ability is being able to deliver both [SaaS and packaged software] because you really can't do SaaS at the edge. But that's a core component of what edge devices will talk to. Red Hat's ability to deploy in a private data center, deploy software or services in the cloud and at the edge, and connect all that, that's really our passion in open hybrid clouds. We have to continue to do software really well, and we have to continue to refine our ability to deliver services and SaaS as well.

What types of changes do you expect to come in as far as that refinement? What does Red Hat need to do differently than it did when it was primarily focused on delivering packaged software?

Hicks: The transactional, commercial model changes. I think that's largely been set by the public clouds, where we will probably be selling through their marketplaces, selling by-the-hour-type models, because that's how customers want to consume it. We really didn't have to work with those on-demand consumption models much in the packaged software space. We're also having to bridge these two areas with hybrid spend models for customers that are using packaged software today, and we are going to have some blend [of SaaS and on-premises software] -- how do we construct deals that make that worthwhile to them? That'll be a new area for us commercially to go through. And then the last part is running service reliability engineering -- having those skills to not just build great sustainable software, but to deploy it to customers' environments, to patch it, to run it, with the same mission-critical support that we've provided for them, in an operational sense. We have been doing that for eight years in OpenShift, but I think that's an area where there's always more to learn and we will continue to grow and scale there.

The continued adoption, trust and sustainability of open source is obviously foundational for our work. The linkage of that to customers being successful with open hybrid cloud is equally foundational.
Matt HicksCEO, Red Hat

What would you say is the biggest challenge on the frontier for Red Hat, or the biggest risk to the business as you move forward?

Hicks: I don't know if I would classify it as risk to the business, but the continued adoption, trust and sustainability of open source is obviously foundational for our work. The linkage of that to customers being successful with open hybrid cloud is equally foundational for us. We're at an exciting point with that, where for years the momentum was all on, 'We're going to move everything to a single cloud.' Now, as we're starting to see multiple clouds that are going to differentiate in [different] innovation areas, customers will be using multiple clouds. Private cloud, private deployments aren't going away. And then with geopolitical challenges, global businesses that have to execute in [different] countries are also using regional providers. The linkage of those two -- open source being sustainable, and then open hybrid cloud continuing to deliver value -- those are the foundational elements that we want to see continue.

Paul Cormier, chairman, Red HatPaul Cormier

Cormier: Put another way, for Red Hat the focus is on execution, to continue to deliver more and more value across the hybrid multi-cloud world to our customers, but it's also education. You know, as Matt said, in the early days in cloud, there were many CIOs that said, 'I'm moving all 8,000 applications to one cloud provider next week.' And as they've started to move some, now a lot of them are becoming believers that it's a hybrid world and it takes an architecture and takes planning and thought and then it takes different tools and maybe different platforms. So I think the education part of that is also something that we have to continue to get out there as well with people thinking, 'Oh, I'll just take [software] from upstream and I'm good.' That's similar to, in the hybrid world, 'All the cloud providers work the same way.' Well, they really don't, and that's starting to get understood out there, but it's been a huge educational effort for us for a number of years.

Hicks: On the same education trend, there's a better understanding now of the breadth of open source and the risks of not either knowing it and being able to support it yourself, which I think we experienced with Log4j. I'm amazed at the stuff that people grab in containers and deploy to production. It's like the early, early days of open source, grabbing tarballs off the internet. I'm surprised seeing that in 2022, but that's probably another good education area. You still have to think through those layers of hybrid, down to the source. If you're not willing to put in that investment to really know and contribute, and you're just drafting and consuming off it, I think that's a risk position to take as an enterprise, and not a great position to be in.

Beth Pariseau, senior news writer at TechTarget, is an award-winning veteran of IT journalism. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @PariseauTT.

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