October 2006

When I bought my first home, I used a lawyer that a friend referred me to.  The lawyer was great, thorough, responded quickly and took the time to explain things in plain English.

I used him again 2 years later for an investment and found that he was still thorough but not as quick to get back to me or willing to spend as much time going through the legal lingo.  Heck, I had to call him an average of 3x just to get a response from him, and it took nearly 2 years to get my closing documents.

What changed?  Well, news got out that he was good at his job.  He got busy, became overworked, and as a result, his customer service suffered.  Sadly, he couldn’t clone himself!  Also, his early customers expected a level of customer service that he was not able to give, even with additional administrative staff.

I thought about this when I was looking at the CIO study that Red Hat is linking to which indicates Red Hat was the leading vendor to work with.  NOTE: I’m not challenging the results of the study.  I do however find it interesting that the top 2 vendors listed (Red Hat & Apple) have less than the average # of responses who have worked with the vendor in the past 12 months (see 3rd column from right on the 3rd page).  In plain English, even though Red Hat & Apple scored highest in the study, less than 25% of the respondents had experience with these two vendors in the past 12 months. Yes, that means lots of room to grow for these vendors ;-)  But does it also hint at growing pains that may lie around the corner?  Said differently, I am questioning whether Red Hat’s position in the rankings will take a turn for the worse if they are able to attract additional new customers.  Will they fall into the same trap that my lawyer did?  Get too big for a service business to the point that customer satisfaction suffers severely?

Some of you will say, I missing the point; That the reason customers acquire RHEL is because it’s a higher quality product than its competition.  Well, if that is the case and the support experience doesn’t matter, then why pay for RHEL at all?  Why not use CentOS? <devilsAdvocate>Or for that matter, Oracle’s support for RHEL? </devilsAdvocate> To be fair, I’m not saying that RedHat’s success is only due to the level of support and the customer service associated with RHEL. Support, customer service and product quality are all important.  (As is vendor stability & reputation, I’d bet).

I guess I’m pointing out a scaling problem that Red Hat may encounter down the road….unless Oracle buys them ;-)  or Red Hat sees it coming and puts strategies in place to minimize the customer impact?

There is a symbiotic relationship between Oracle & Red Hat now. Yes there was one before with Oracle’s database business on Linux, but it’s even more intertwined now. This relationship is similar to what we see between CentOS and Red Hat already.

CentOS takes RHEL and redistributes it for free. If enough customers of Red Hat were to opt for CentOS instead of RHEL, Red Hat’s revenues would suffer. Hence, Red Hat would cut expenses, including their R&D spending. This could lead to development quality and speed on new feature addition issues inside of RHEL. This, by implication would lead to the same issues within CentOS. As a result, fewer customers would use CentOS, thereby returning the balance between Red Hat and CentOS.

The same scenario applies to Red Hat & Oracle, at least in the near term. That’s why I have a real problem with the likes of Matt Assay crying bloody murder. DISCLAIMER: I don’t like Oracle’s business practices in general. I am incredibly happy that IBM knows how to contribute and participate within the Open Source community and that this is not a move you could really see IBM making. I’m just responding to the outcry from a business and customer standpoint.

From a customer standpoint:

1] If Oracle does a terrible job providing support for RHEL, customers will go (back to) Red Hat. There will be some customer pain while they migrate (back) to Red Hat support, but at least they aren’t locked in.

[2] If Oracle does a great job at it, customers win. (Unlikely if you ask me :-)

[2b] If Oracle wins a lot of (new) customers (from Red Hat) and inhibits the growth of Red Hat, this would cause Red Hat to spend even less on R&D than they do. Now, Oracle has a choice:

  • [2b-1] Continue to base their support business on RHEL, even though the lowered R&D spending by Red Hat is resulting in a lower quality product with fewer new features. (Unlikely because this is a do nothing option and customers would lose.)
  • [2b-2] Add more Oracle development resources to the Linux development community to make up for the reduced Red Hat R&D. (Likely because we have to assume Oracle will need to add some employees to the community ASAP to help support the unbreakable linux network. Hence, no net negative impact to customers.)
  • [2b-3] Oracle acquires Red Hat. (Possible, but not without other large IT vendors jumping in to support Novell SUSE or Ubuntu to ensure that there is more than 1 large IT vendor endorsed/backed Linux distro. No net negative impact to customers.)
  • [2b-4] Decide to fork. (Most unlikely, and this would have a negative impact to customers. But on the other hand, maybe it would increase choice for customers.)

[2c] Red Hat’s financial troubles make it an acquisition target for the likes of IBM, HP, Sun, Dell or even SAP. (Possible, but other major IT vendors would act to ensure that choice of Linux distros remains, so no net negative impact to customers).

[3] The Oracle competition just makes Red Hat work even harder at their core Linux offerings, which is where they’ve shown their ability to compete and win. (Most likely ;-)

Lots of roads this can take. Lots of possibilities, the majority of which don’t have a large negative impact on customers. It’ll be interesting to see this play out.

So, Oracle went ahead and announced support for Linux. Support for Red Hat Linux to be more precise. Instead of having their own version of Linux, it appears that Oracle is going to support RHEL better than Red Hat. Well…until Oracle decides to actually fork RHEL or the FUD brings Red Hat’s stock down low enough to be acquired.

Dave Dargo from Ingres, and ex-Oracle open source program office lead, has a very interesting take.

I can’t wait for Marc Fleury to pipe in, especially since he explained why this wouldn’t happen. But hey, it won’t be the first time Fleury et al. have tried to rewrite their past views/blog posts.

Update: Interesting reply from Red Hat about Oracle ULN here.

Infoworld has a biting review of Rob Levy’s (CTO at BEA) comments on open source a few weeks back.  I didn’t blog about this before because, well, I feel bad for BEA.  To go from having a big lead in the App Server space to, well, where they are now, must really suck.

And to be fair, I think that BEA’s “blended” strategy of allowing customers to use open source software and BEA’s commercial products together is a step in the right direction.  But if BEA really wanted to get behind OSS, they’d become more active in the Apache Geronimo community.  I am 99% sure that someone at Apache, IBM or internally would have brought this up to BEA execs already.

I won’t go into why it would be good for BEA to do this, as I’m still and IBM employee.  But if they’ve followed our revenue results, especially since we got into the OSS-based app server game with WAS CE, BEA would see it’s an easy decision to make.

There’s a lot of confusion about what Sun actually intends to do when they use the term “open source java”. We shouldn’t confuse the Java SE standard with the Java SE reference implementation.Check out Sun’s (new) Open Source Java page. If you look at the “OpenJDK” paragraph in the communities section, you’ll find that Sun is referring to open sourcing Sun’s implementation of Java SE. It doesn’t mention anything about governance of the Java standard, which is much more important to open source Java if you ask me. Now if you look at the “OpenJavaEE” paragraph, you’ll notice that they somehow tie GlassFish (Sun’s JEE implementation) to the governance of JEE:

“The community governs the development of specifications, technologies, and products that work together to provide enterprise-level solutions under the Java EE paradigm.”

Now call me crazy, but (1) doesn’t the JCP govern JEE and (2) wouldn’t a true open community like the Apache Geronimo community be a better place for the implementation and governance of JEE? Why is open source JEE so closely tied to Sun controlled efforts? I thought this was a community story.

Based on what Sun appears to be trying to pull with JEE, I have fairly large reservations about what open source Java SE (implementation and governance) will really look like in the end.

[UPDATED 2006-11-13: This post is getting a lot of hits, so I wanted to point readers to more recent posts on this topic]:

  1. Sun Gets Press and Maintains Control
  2. Matt Asay believes Sun gets it – But what is it?

DevX has an article on using WebSphere Application Server Community Edition (WAS CE) and AJAX together for rich, scalable web applications.

IBM developerWorks also had a previous article on using WAS CE and AJAX. You need an IBM ID (which is free) to view this aritcle. Yeah, I know it sucks to be forced to register to view content. But, getting an IBM ID isn’t a big deal, and it’s good to have to view any ‘protected’ articles at developerWorks. If you’re having trouble getting to the PDF, send me an email or post a comment and I’ll email it to you.

IBM is offering 30-days of free support for WAS CE.  This offer has been available for about 1 month now, and I’ve heard from the WAS CE team that the response has been quite strong.  And they expect even more adoption, since the free 30-day support has been extended to users who download WAS CE from Sourceforge/OSTG.  (Side note: WAS CE downloads via sf/OSTG are almost 10x more than through ibm.com)

This is a great idea that I’m sure is going to help customers choose WAS CE even if they haven’t had experience with IBM support in the past.  Removing barriers to adoption is a great benefit of the OSS movement.  It’s cool to see the WAS CE team applying those lessons to support also!

So go ahead, give WAS CE and the trial support a shot to get familiar with the quality of support you can expect from IBM for WAS CE.

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