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Thought Leaders in Cloud Computing: Lee Congdon, CIO of Red Hat (Part 4)

Posted on Sunday, Nov 13th 2011

Sramana Mitra: How many customers do you have in total? How many customers do you service from your entire IT infrastructure?

Lee Congdon: Internally or externally?

SM: Externally.

LC: Certainly, [we have] hundreds of thousands [of customers] around the globe.

SM: Supporting hundreds of thousands of customers is a serious scale issue, right?

LC: Correct.

SM: Would you talk to me a bit about your support strategy and in what ways are trends like cloud or social CRM affecting that strategy?

LC: From an IT perspective, we’ve used the techniques that large-scale consumer cloud providers have implemented in terms of a network protection layer, a load balancing layer, an application server layer, and a database layer all redundant and resilient. We’re increasingly using that as our default internal architecture, and I fully expect that as we move these applications into the cloud space, we will take advantage of a similar architecture. In addition to that, as I mentioned, we use an external software as a service provider to deliver our customer support applications. We’re relying upon them to provide and interface, but we’re also relying on them to provide the resiliency that we need for those applications..

SM: That’s Salesforce.com?

LC: That’s Salesforce.com.

SM: Are there behavioral changes that you’re addressing? Social CRM is becoming a big trend. There’re a lot of different channels through which customers are touching you and all enterprises today. So, the question is, how are you tackling that challenge, and are you doing interesting and unique things to take advantage of those various touch points and trends?

LC: Yes. First of all, remember that that’s the way that our products have been developed for years. We have always had a community. That’s vital to Red Hat, because the community is, in fact, the people who develop the products. Unlike a lot of firms where the development goes on behind closed doors, we’ve always done that in the open.

In addition to the robust community around all those open source projects, we’ve added community features to our customer portal to ensure that Red Hat customers can engage in a dialogue and share information with other Red Hat customers.

Back to your earlier questions about collaboration and social business and so on, in my mind, it’s only a matter of time before the organizational barriers are broken down. We’re not just collaborating internally with social tools, but externally as well. Today, that tends to take place – as I mentioned earlier – on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. We’re starting to formally track trends of mentions in those spaces as well as professionals engaging them and individuals engaging in those forums on an on-going basis as well. Many areas of social are becoming important to us. We’re pretty comfortable with that as an organization. Given our open source heritage, it is important to us, and it’s something that – live everyone else – we’re learning. We’re definitely making investments in that space.

SM: Interesting. Lee, this is a unique situation because of your open source lineage. You have all these community members who develop products for you. Are these community members also supporting the customers?

LC: Typically not. That’s what Red Hat does for a living, provide professional support for those products. Depending on the project, there is, typically, some degree of community support. If you are working with Libre Office, which is an open source office suite, you can join a forum and get some level of informal support for the platform from the developers and others associated with the community, but it’s not service level agreement driven. It’s not business contract driven. It’s very much informal, ad hoc. In some projects, it may be great, and in some projects, not there at all and certainly not predictable and reliable for an enterprise. So, Red Hat bridges the gap and provides predictable enterprise-grade service.

SM: It’s not in your interest to have the community provide service?

LC: It’s probably not a direct competition because the community isn’t necessarily going to be available at 2 a.m. to resolve a critical business issue. Arguably, having the community there makes the product available to organizations that aren’t yet in a position to pay for services; makes it accessible at very low or zero cost and actually builds the base. I’m sure there are as many different situations as there are organizations and individuals in projects. As a general statement, it’s not directly competitive with what Red Hat does.

This segment is part 4 in the series : Thought Leaders in Cloud Computing: Lee Congdon, CIO of Red Hat
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