Open source needs successful champions

Open source industry needs profitable proponents to illustrate success, attract funding and encourage participation, says Red Hat CEO.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

SINGAPORE--The open source industry needs profitable champions to demonstrate success, and attract funding and participation in open source, according to Red Hat CEO.

In an interview with ZDNet Asia Wednesday, Jim Whitehurst said revenue models of open source proponents such as Red Hat itself and Google, have brought success to the respective companies and allowed them to contribute back to the open source community. Google relies on ad-based revenue, while Red Hat's revenue runs on a subscription model.

Whitehurst acknowledged that the bulk of Google's revenues are not generated through open source software, but noted that success from companies active in open source in is still beneficial to the industry.

"The open source [community] certainly needs successful companies in order to ensure venture capital [for] startups, and to give people looking to join open source companies the sense that they can be successful," he said.

On Red Hat's own success, he noted: "People see how fast we've grown, and how profitable we are and say 'I want to do that'. That really helps money flow into open source."

He added that he hopes to see more successful revenue models arise. "I hope to see other ways of making money off open source... I think there is a lot of room around innovation," Whitehurst said.

According to online reports, Google is one of the biggest open source contributing companies and has contributed more codes than Red Hat itself.

Asia still in early-adoption phase
Whitehurst touched on the company's progress in penetrating the Chinese market, noting that the number of ISVs (independent software vendors) that have signed up with its OSCI (open source collaborative innovation) drive has gone up to 100, from 30 at last year's launch.

He attributed the "rapid growth" of open source in Asia to greenfield opportunities, of which China and India have the most. New infrastructure builds in the region have the option of choosing open source from the onset, he said. In comparison, much of the systems infrastructure in the United States has already been built.

"Nobody is building a new system for a wireless provider," he noted, adding that an estimated two-thirds of what Red Hat sells in the U.S. is targeted at replacing existing systems.

Regardless, open source adoption is still "relatively young" in Asia, where "a lot of [Red Hat's] big reference customers are in the U.S.", which adopted Linux earlier than this region, he said.

The bulk of the deployments in Asia currently involve people moving to or setting up new Linux implementations, he said, while deployments in the U.S. involve "pushing the envelope around performance".

Another factor urging open source embrace in the region has been supportive governments, he noted. Pointing to "the first government-funded cloud computing center" in China, announced in August, he said: "The government recognizes the benefits of not getting locked in [to proprietary code]."

The knowledge-transfer within open source companies "makes good public policy" because it protects against intellectual property flowing out of the country, where local expertise is returned to the local OSS community, said Whitehurst. In the case of proprietary software vendors, code contribution from local developers belong to the employer, he said.

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