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Signs point to cloud future at Red Hat Summit 2017

The open source software company is transitioning from its Linux roots to cloud services.

BOSTON -- This week, the cloud was painted red. Well, it was if you were a Red Hat executive addressing the nearly...

6,000 IT folks gathered here for Red Hat Summit 2017.

The open source software vendor is allying with public cloud provider Amazon Web Services to let Red Hat customers access AWS features on its platform for software developers, OpenShift.

The company also launched OpenShift.io, a free internet tool that allows developers to quickly build applications that are "cloud-native," or powered by cloud computing resources.

I talked about Red Hat's enthusiasm for cloud computing with Mike Urbanek, an architect on the cloud platform and middleware team at Dell.

"They seem to have come to an acknowledgement that cloud is the future, even within products themselves," said Urbanek, who was browsing vendor booths on the exhibition floor. "That's a bold approach from a company whose business, to this point, has been largely the data center."

Red Hat's flagship product for businesses is its Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) operating system.

Urbanek noted, wryly, that "a guy from Dell," which sells PCs and servers, saw the same future. So do scores of companies along with Red Hat, whose bread and butter has long been terrestrial-based technologies -- including Dell and its rival, Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

A sign greets Red Hat Summit attendees in the lobby of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
A sign greets Red Hat Summit attendees in the lobby of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

'Planning is dead'

CEO Jim Whitehurst put the cloud news in a broader context, namely the need for relentless speed: "Planning, as we know it, is dead." Technological change, he said in a keynote address, is happening at an ever-increasing pace, making it nearly impossible to prepare for.

"I hear over and over and over again -- CEOs, CIOs talking about, 'Oh, I'm worried about being Uberized,'" Whitehurst said, referring to the success of ride-hailing service Uber, which upended the livery industry with its cloud-based business model. "'I'm worried about being more agile. I'm worried about digital disruption and digital transformation.'"

CEO Jim Whitehurst speaks during a keynote address at the Red Hat Summit in Boston on Wednesday.
CEO Jim Whitehurst speaks during a keynote address at the Red Hat Summit in Boston on Wednesday.

Organizations can only counter a future that's "less and less knowable," Whitehurst said, by giving people the tools they need to tap into their own creativity. That way, they can come up with innovative products and services -- and get ahead of the competition.

Software developers are in a position to drive innovation today with new applications, said Todd Mancini, senior principal product manager at Red Hat, but oftentimes they can't.

"One of their biggest challenges, one of their biggest difficulties, is simply getting started," Mancini said in another address. "Difficulties setting up their developer tools, their dev and test environments, difficulties understanding the needs of the business, and even difficulties selecting technologies when starting a new project."

Openshift.io, "a new, end-to-end, cloud-native development experience," aims to fix that, giving developers guidance to select the right tools and create new applications and cloud services.

The technology is still in preview, but Urbanek said it shows promise. At Dell, he said, "applications rule the roost. And anything that empowers [developers] to be able to deliver more quickly is a big boon."

Reading up on cloud

Not every organization, of course, has on-site developers -- or has moved much of its IT operations to the cloud. Andria Lauria is a system administrator and web developer at the Boston Athenaeum, one of the oldest private libraries in the U.S. She was at the Red Hat Summit 2017 to help decipher everyday problems like why she gets error messages in the Security-Enhanced Linux tool set. But learning more about cloud options was high on her to-do list.

Her tiny team -- "there's just two of us" -- manages Microsoft servers, servers running RHEL, which house the Athenaeum's online book catalog, and yet others running CentOS. That's the free version of Red Hat, so there's no commercial support.

The library is just now exploring AWS for off-site storage and other cloud computing options to ease the management burden.

"Moving more into hosted environments is something that is definitely on our plate in the coming year," Lauria said, "because we are responsible for doing all the maintenance on our servers."

Robots in the data center

But while cloud computing is prompting some organizations to eagerly make some adjustments, another vision of the future may make others shudder.

Jason Hoffman, vice president and head of cloud infrastructure at telecom-equipment maker Ericsson, spoke to an after-lunch crowd about a revolution that will happen alongside the emergence of software-defined infrastructure, which doesn't require humans to operate it: data center design.

"In the data center today, everything is designed with management ports in the front assuming that somebody has to go plug a laptop in. The physical design of these things hasn't really changed in roughly 30 years," he said.

Jason Hoffman, vice president and head of cloud infrastructure at Ericsson, speaks during a keynote address at the Red Hat Summit in Boston on Wednesday.
Jason Hoffman, vice president and head of cloud infrastructure at Ericsson, speaks during a keynote address at the Red Hat Summit in Boston on Wednesday.

Data centers of tomorrow, he said, won't be built for humans but for robots, with "very vertical" storage stacks, for example. "Data centers don't have to be square or rectangular. It actually makes sense for them to look like a chimney," he said.

It's a vision that makes Dell's Urbanek uneasy. Not that he doesn't like automation -- "I'm a big fan of it," he said. It has been great for admins, taking over time-consuming tasks like installing security patches. And it will continue to take on IT tasks now done by humans.

"How fast it's actually going to happen?" Urbanek said. "It's exponential, but will there be empty data centers and nobody working in IT? I don't know. It's a scary thought."

CIO news roundup for week of May 1

Red Hat Summit 2017 was the big tech game in Beantown this week. Here's what else was happening:

Verizon retreats from the cloud. New Jersey-based telecommunications company Verizon said Tuesday that it is selling its cloud services and managed hosting business to IBM. The acquisition is slated to be completed later this year. Earlier this week, Verizon completed the sale of 29 of its data centers to Equinix for $3.6 billion. The deals mark the telco's exit from the cloud infrastructure market, where it struggled to compete with the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft. George Fischer, senior vice president and group president at Verizon Enterprise Solutions, said in a blog post that the company will continue to help customers "securely and reliably connect to their cloud resources and utilize cloud-enabled applications." Said Fischer: "Our goal is to become one of the world's leading managed services providers enabled by an ecosystem of best-in-class technology solutions from Verizon and a network of other leading providers." Verizon is expected to partner with IBM on several networking and cloud service initiatives.

Apple makes waves with $1 billion manufacturing fund. In a bid to spur job creation in the U.S. manufacturing sector, iPhone-maker Apple revealed Wednesday that the company has established a $1 billion advanced manufacturing fund. "By doing that, we can be the ripple in the pond ... those manufacturing jobs create more jobs around them because you have a service industry that builds up around them," Apple chief executive Tim Cook told CNBC. Apple expects to announce the first investment from the fund later this month, Cook added. The announcement came just a day after Apple delivered its quarterly earnings report.

Trump establishes tech council. President Donald Trump signed yet another executive order Monday, creating the American Technology Council aimed at remodeling the government's digital services. "It is the policy of the United States to promote the secure, efficient and economical use of information technology to achieve its missions ... . To effectuate this policy, the Federal Government must transform and modernize its information technology and how it uses and delivers digital services," Trump wrote in the executive order. He is expected to serve as the chairman of the council. The council will coordinate the "vision, strategy and direction" for the government's use and delivery of IT services, and advise the president on policy decisions. The order did not specify details about when it will meet or who will participate in the council.

Assistant editor Mekhala Roy contributed to this week's Searchlight.

Next Steps

SearchCloudApplications news writer Joel Shore expounds on OpenShift.io. SearchStorage senior writer Carol Sliwa delves into the integration of Gluster storage with Red Hat's OpenShift Container Platform on Amazon Web Services. For complete TechTarget coverage of the Red Hat Summit 2017, check out our roundup of the event.

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Conference Coverage

Red Hat Summit 2017: Inside the latest with open source tech

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