Tuesday, February 28, 2006

MIT Enterprise Forum: Charting Your Course through Open Source

Matthew Szulik, CEO of Red Hat, opened his keynote address at the recent MIT Enterprise Open Source event with an impressive video, "Truth Happens." If you get minute, take a look. I'm sure he uses this often, but it woke up the 300 attendees at 8 a.m. on a Saturday -- not an easy task.

Szulik is an entertaining guy, walking the crowd at the front of the room, speaking without notes. He shared these tidbits among many others (I've done my best to capture them verbatim):

  • "We did one of those team-building raft trips. As we started out, the guide asked us, 'What do you guys do?' I told him we sell free software." He said, "That's a hard job."
  • "We have four folks under the age of 14 who are Red Hat Certified Engineers."
  • "As we think ahead, how do we avoid being the K-Mart of software."
  • "What can we learn from our mistakes? We underestimated the power of infrastructure, the infrastructure we'd need to build the next generation of the company. We didn't spend enough time on attracting talent. We do now."
  • "We've signed 40K net new customers in the last 2 quarters."

The Plenary Panel

This high-octane panel featured Simon Phipps, Sun's chief open source officer; Mike Milinkovich, exec. director of Eclipse; and David Skok, general partner at Matrix. It was charmingly moderated by Stephen O'Grady of RedMonk fame. Sadly, my notes here are sketchy as I got pulled out for a bit on a logistical issue.

Phipps noted that the most important element of an open source community are the governance rules - who owns the IP, who gets to commit, how the ecosystem is managed. It's like the keiretsu model, he said - a keiretsu of code. For Simon's eloquent take on this, read here.

The Entrepreneurs Panel

This panel, moderated by the always insightful Anne Thomas Manes, featured Andy Astor, CEO of EnterpriseDB; our client Theresa Friday, VP of marketing for Palamida; and Murray Berkowitz, a technology partner at Kodiak.

Of open source, Astor noted "Customers are not asking me about open source. They are saying we're paying too much for our database and want a better value. They want a quality database with better support at a lower cost."

This theme was oft repeated at the conference. This isn't about selling an open source solution. It's about solving customer problems. Some things don't change, no matter the latest trend.

Friday noted that while Palamida's product is not based on an open source project, their IP Amplifier product uses 19 open source components, and one proprietary component. This mimics the ratio that Berkowitz cited. The average enterprise application might have 20 million lines of code; of that, just 1-2 million are custom. But they are the value add that might provide the enterprise with a competitive edge.

More next time on the CIO panel...

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