Riding the open source wave

Friday, July 8, 2011

Open source software use is becoming increasingly more common. Enterprises and governments around the world are shifting toward this technology thanks to its availability, flexibility and price.

For example, well-known content management systems like Joomla have more than 200,000 contributors worldwide and are widely utilized for websites.

Also, the integration with open source is easier because the code is available to anyone, which is the whole point of the web democracy.

To talk a bit more about this trend and the business behind the system, BNamericas spoke to Alejandro Raffaele, the Latin America marketing director for US Linux provider Red Hat (NYSE: RHT), one of the world's main open source players.

BNamericas: How does the open source system work, and what is the business model?

Raffaele: Red Hat's business model is based on the open source system, where the product is produced by a community of developers and is available without a license. What we do is provide the stability and the testing process that the product needs. For this, we have the highest levels of innovation and creation compared with other software companies because we work with hundreds of developers. We take projects that we can use and give them the testing process and security that they require.

We don't sell licenses, like VMware or Microsoft - that's the main difference. What we do is offer a subscription in terms of support, as well as technical support.

BNamericas: And what does this subscription include?

Raffaele: Well, it depends on what you need. For example, we charge per server, and we have a basic package that allows the client to get technical support in a 5 to 8-hour response model. After that, we have a premium service, with 24/7 technical support and the guarantee that the problem will be resolved, as it has no time limit. If a company with "X" amount of servers contracts "X" amount of subscriptions, we install the operating system and will sort out any problem it may come across.

BNamericas: Is open source less prone to viruses and cyber attacks?

Raffaele: Yes, it's a 100% safe product. In fact, our company is one of the few IT companies that are growing at a faster rate because we're taking clients that used to have more vulnerable or older operating systems. We have certifications both in the US and in Europe that guarantee a highly secure service.

BNamericas: Apart from open source, which other products do you offer?

Raffaele: We offer middleware - which is the communication layer between environments, applications and systems - that facilitates the integration of new systems and processes with legacy systems, by providing a central point through which various systems communicate.

Four years ago Red Hat incorporated JBoss, which is available for the community, because it's an open source product. We use this one and others to implement Red Hat's middleware for developing things like application server, tools and all the applications needed for communication.

BNamericas: But in Latin America, which products have the highest demand?

Raffaele: This is a subject of evolution and maturity. Today the products are divided between operational systems and middleware, which are our historical core products.

BNamericas: And what about cloud and virtualization?

Raffaele: Yes, that's the other part of the business. Although it can be seen as two separate parts, I think both are part of a path that started with virtualization, and the next step is the cloud.

In terms of virtualization, Red Hat started a bit late. The leader in the industry is VMware. But in cloud computing, the main driver has been Red Hat. Nowadays the cloud is a hot topic among business leaders, and we have a variety of products. The biggest advantage of Red Hat's cloud service is that it is interoperable with other solutions, which allows you to "mix" different operational systems - from Red Hat's to VMware's to Microsoft's.

For example, if you base your business solution on VMware then you can only grow and develop with what VMware offers. That has a direct impact in the interconnectivity that you can achieve in the cloud. That's the uniqueness of the vision that we have regarding cloud computing - the capacity for interoperability combined with the openness that is needed to integrate a mix of technologies, which leads to a highly flexible and scalable solution.

BNamericas: But there's always been a myth around the security and usability of open source. How do you counter this?

Raffaele: What we do is get certified in terms of security. That's why we have the highest security certifications possible in the US and Europe. But we also have success stories to show to our clients. For example, we have the social security service in Argentina as one of our clients. The government has changed a big chunk of the technological capacity of its mainframe to the Linux operational system offered by Red Hat.

BNamericas: But is there a myth?

Raffaele: Yes, there is a myth. But there are countries that have a more mature and flexible approach toward this application. Others are a bit slower in terms of IT integration. But our numbers in terms of company growth would not be this high if there wasn't global acceptance of the benefits of the open source.

BNamericas: Which verticals are using this technology?

Raffaele: The public sector is one of our main clients, but also the financial and telecommunication sector. For example, Brazil's public sector has adopted the open source model on a large scale, which is also the case in Argentina and Peru.

BNamericas: Do individuals use your services, as well as enterprises and governments?

Raffaele: No, that's not a priority for us right now. But there's also a reality: The technology is making us more and more independent from the equipment we're using. It's like the telephone. Before we only had telephones and now we have mobile phones, but what's behind the hardware, we don’t know. Our mission today is to provide technology to companies who can later offer it to end users. But the public sector and enterprise are our main clients.

BNamericas: But you can install open source in a computer?

Raffaele: Well, yes. We have an excellent Red Hat version for a notebook or a PC, which is by far more secure and virus resistant. Actually the virus concept doesn't exist in the Linux environment. You can see that none of the recent [hacker] attacks have been on Linux-based users.

BNamericas: Is this good?

Raffaele: Well, it's good and bad… it gives us space to grow!

About Alejandro Raffaele

Before joining Red Hat, Alejandro Raffaele was general manager of Latin American IT systems integrator Sonda in Argentina. Previously he was Sun Microsystems' president in Argentina, for which he also held regional positions in Latin America.

Raffaele studied electrical engineering at Universidad Tecnológica Nacional (UTN) in Buenos Aires.