From the mag: the present, and future, of open source

Some telcos may get nervous at the mention of open source. But it’s already a key ingredient for some of the world’s biggest tech companies as they develop innovative products and services, says Lee Miles, Red Hat’s general manager for Central Eastern Europe, CIS, the Middle East and Africa.
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We need not fear open source, says Red Hat's Lee Miles.

Open source: for some, the phrase doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, or calls to mind things such as Wikipedia pages that can be edited to say basically anything. According to Red Hat’s Lee Miles, general manager for Central Eastern Europe, CIS, the Middle East and Africa, that’s one reason why many businesses in the past were wary of Linux’s open source operating system.

But times are changing, and Red Hat, which provides open-source software products to the enterprise community, is embracing that change.

“We see an explosion of technology happening in countries that are looking to advance,” he says, pointing to Saudi Arabia and its Vision 2030 initiatives as an example. “And telcos are really at the forefront.”

Having showcased at Mobile World Congress this past February, Miles says the advent of 5G in the region means more telcos will be working with open source technologies as the pace of innovation increases and competition among telcos heats up. “If you look at what telcos are trying to achieve in terms of the digital traffic, and with a digital mindset, for us as consumers we don’t care about the underlying technology. We just want to see one interface, see one surface in an app. For the companies to be able to achieve that, it’s important the infrastructure, the network is virtualised, it runs on software-defined storage, is taking advantage of the cloud – it’s important that all of that works in a seamless infrastructure.”

As Miles explains, Red Hat is helping telcos prepare to launch 5G services by providing them with the platforms to do so. He says: “Red hat is providing the tools and technologies for companies to be able to achieve that. When you look at what the future will look like, [companies] have to move so fast with what consumers [are] looking for. Old infrastructure just doesn’t have the capability to move that quickly. This new platform [Red Hat provides], which will be the launchpad of 5G, will give them the flexibility to launch services.”

Red Hat's Lee Miles.

Simple as that sounds, Miles says it’s a classic case of figuring out how to plan for something when you have no idea what it will look like in the future.

“If you think about it from a technology perspective, I would say 80 to 90% of what every company does is the same,” says Miles.

“That’s not the secret behind their success. Your infrastructure and your applications – you can share that stuff. The 10% at the top is the secret – you keep that in-house. But the rest of it can be shared. It’s exactly the same way for us.”

Miles says Red Hat has been operating using open-source principles for decades, but it’s only in the past few years it has really caught on among some of the world’s biggest tech companies.

“We’ve operated for over 25 years now [with open source], and we’ve got other companies starting to mirror that. We’ve got Facebook, Google, Netflix, Apple, Microsoft… they’re all starting now to run projects in an open source environment. Google recently open sourced their AI technology, and they’re expecting it to be improved to their advantage by the rest of the world getting in on it. It’s becoming a much more mainstream idea.”

That mainstreaming of open source appears to be paying dividends for Red Hat. Red Hat’s customers include every telco in the Fortune Global 500. Miles claims the company’s Middle East operations have quadrupled in size in the past three years. Earlier this year they opened an office in Saudi Arabia. “We’re growing like crazy,” he says.

Miles adds Red Hat’s network customer base has had particularly strong growth, fuelled in part by greater adoption of open source networks. He also says the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 was a major turning point for the company. Since then, enterprise customers began looking for a more economically friendly infrastructure to work on. Large organisations in the Middle East and Africa Red Hat currently work with include Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, NEC and more. No fewer than 26 universities in the region also have Red Hat.

The future is also bright for Red Hat as open source continues to become more popular, at least as Miles tells it. He says data centres, cloud providers like Microsoft’s Azure, the container market, and more are primarily Linux-based, open source – providing huge business opportunities for Red Hat. “If you see in the last five years, there’s only two business operating systems that have grown,” he says.

“And that’s Apple’s, and that’s Red Hat’s. And everything else has been declining.”

This story first appeared in the October 2018 print issue of CommsMEA.

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