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Q&A: Red Hat's Werner Knoblich on UK open source

Vice president and general manager of Red Hat in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), Werner Knoblich talks about how open source is going down in the UK and what 2010 has in store.

Werner Knoblich

Open source is taking off as a viable alternative to proprietary software in the public sector and enterprises. We spoke to Red Hat's general manager for Europe Werner Knoblich to find out how open source is faring in the UK - and why the recession could be good news for Red Hat.

What are the key elements of open source that make it an attractive alternative to proprietary offerings?

When you look at different researchers as to why companies are selecting open source technology you always get similar answers.

One element for sure nowadays is cost and the second really big one is avoiding vendor lock-in which is an essential element.

Another one is it is truly standards based, which again is a key point to address vendor lock in. If something is standards based you can switch to something else [easily] unlike a proprietary where there is no alternative.

Then very often the quality of the software itself [is a factor]. It is proven [that open source products] are better quality software because many more eyes look at it and check it and the speed of innovation is in many areas significantly faster.

With cost being one of the major factors of open source, has the recession benefited the industry?

When you look at our results from Q3, which ended in November last year, we grew 19 per cent year over year in the worst recession since the second world war. When you look at all the other results from software companies, there were very few, if any, who had a plus sign in front of their growth.

I don't want to say that the recession is great but what it clearly did [for us was] we had a significant increase in net new customers, customers who really were buying from us for the first time.

In the recession you have very challenging environments. People are forced to get out of their comfort zone and are forced to question rather than "we always did it this way, lets keep doing it this way."

That's why we saw a significant increase in net new customers because now many people couldn't afford anymore to run a very expensive proprietary technology and they really need to save money. They said "what is the alternative?" And in many areas open source [was] a good alternative.

When you think back to when Red Hat became big, let's say when Red Hat became accepted in the enterprise, it was the Wall Street customers after the internet bubble burst in the early 2000s.

They were under huge pressure, the Goldman and Sachs, the Merrill Lynches, the JP Morgans, all these big investment companies on Wall Street were sitting on very, very expensive Sun Solaris infrastructure mainly and they had to do something - a big move to save money. They were the first ones adopting Linux in the data centre then they helped it to become enterprise-ready and really enterprise accepted in all the other industries.

Now this crisis again gives a boost for the more mainstream adoption of open source.

What is the adoption like in the UK now with both enterprise and public sector?

The UK overall from a public sector perspective, or from a public policy perspective, was pretty much behind in Europe, especially behind France, Germany, Holland and Spain.

The UK realised and did a big launch and an update to their open source policy in terms of how to use open source technology in the Government. I think this really helped to give it a boost [and] to really catch up again with some of the other countries. That is why from a Red Hat perspective we have a complete organisation for handling the UK Government business. They are now much more open to open source technology and [are] supported by official policy on utilising open source technology.

The UK market is the biggest market in Europe for us and for many other companies because you have the big companies, especially in the financial services [sector]. Even though it is challenging they are still a huge IT user and the big banks just have thousands and thousands of servers in their data centres. With this they are prime candidates to be a customer of us.

With the government over here taking on open source the industry [is starting to] adopt it.

How do you think open source will progress in 2010?

I always make the statement that the open source train [has] left the station and no-one is stopping this train anymore. The question is more how fast will it accelerate?

When we look at [Red Hat] as a company, we are still growing in double digit percentages each year and we are still forecasting that we will keep growing [like that]. We are not a small company [anymore, with] close to $750 million in this fiscal year.

To keep growing [and forecast further growth] is a clear statement that we are convinced open source adoption will grow further.

What you [also] see is in our success. We are pulling other open source companies to get traction as well. Within the open source community we are really the leader and by far the biggest company and this helps other companies get investment from venture capitalists because of our success.

We see the adoption and that open source is not just within the operating system with Linux. You see it in the middleware systems with JBoss as well, or you see it in databases, in emailing, in business intelligence and in document management.

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