While most businesses don't directly compete in the same space as such household names as Google, Facebook, or Twitter, the success of these companies' services does compete with business users' IT expectations.
That was the opening point of today's keynote speech from Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst at Red Hat Summit 2009 in Chicago.
These brand-name companies, which leverage community and the power of participation, "may not be competitors to you, but they are competitors to what your employees can and should expect from your IT," Whitehurst told the joint session crowd attending the opening keynote of this year's Summit, which is co-located with JBoss World.
The average CIO, he went on to explain, is being asked to deliver much more on tighter budgets and, in many industries, more regulations than ever before. "20th Century IT can't keep up," Whitehurst said.
Whitehurst addressed today's audience of approximately 1500 attendees to position Red Hat's current status on the market and where it wants to go. The main thrust of the message? Collaboration and participation is key to satisfying customers' current and future needs.
The power of community is well-known in the Linux arena, but Whitehurst still delivered a telling example: in the entire year of 1998, the Human Genome Project mapped 200 million base pairs. After the project was opened to a wider community, the results were dramatically increased: in January 2003 alone, 1.3 billion base pairs were mapped.
Red Hat is pushing collaboration not just from the innovative standpoint, but from openness and interoperability as well. "Do you want to buy into Larry Ellison's vision of IT or do you want to listen to your customers?" he asked the attendees.
For the Raleigh, NC-based company, Whitehurst defined the business model: "We don't sell software. Our stated goal is to ruthlessly commoditize the areas we go in to. It's about delivering a better collaborative ecosystem."
Naturally, Whitehurst sees their brand of business as a much more positive way of doing things. And he cited the collaborative model for not only what it brings to customers, but what it doesn't bring: software bloat.
"The problem with the typical [proprietary] license model... They make money selling licenses. What happens when you have sold to your install base? What do you do? You add features, which your customers may not want, so it becomes bloat. Bloat is a stumbling block for proprietary models," Whitehurst said.
Red Hat subscribers, he added, can download just what they need, and aren't forced to upgrade on Red Hat's terms. Nor are they locked into just Red Hat's solutions.
"We're not saying buy the whole stack from us. We don't to proscribe what layers customers have to use," Whitehurst said.
This is a prevailing theme for the conference, as speakers and execs from Red Hat are repeatedly emphasizing the ability of any customer to pick and choose whatever tools they want. This melting-pot strategy seems a good fit for today's economy, where customers don't have to grab an entire stack of tools to implement Red Hat products.