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Thought Leaders in Cloud Computing: Lee Congdon, CIO of Red Hat (Part 5)

Posted on Monday, Nov 14th 2011

Sramana Mitra: I’m going to share a trend that I’m seeing right now, particularly in companies where the number of customers is very large. [Red Hat] has a large number of customers. The number of support calls can be very large. You know how customer support organizations are set up as level one, level two, level three customer support? There is a company that is part of our One Million by One Million program called Crowd Engineering. These guys have introduced a level zero customer support where it’s a full enterprise system that engages and integrates the community into the support system so that some of the support calls can be tackled by the expert customer community when they’re available to deal with support needs.

LC: Sure. We would our group our companies into the Fedora organization, which is the operating system side – Linux and related features and products – and JBoss, which is focused on the middleware community. Community support is very much an important part of the model. The developers get feedback about how the products are being used and where they’re failing. We pride ourselves in our ability to push fixes that our customers request back – we call it upstream – into the community. Absolutely, that community support model you mentioned with Crowd Engineering is very much in line with what happens in an open source environment.

SM: Okay. Switching topics, earlier you started to talk a bit about your Internet security needs. You said that because your model is more of an open source model, you don’t have a huge amount of security concerns. But there must be still some security issues that you’re dealing with. Would you elaborate on the security issue?

LC: Yes, absolutely. If I didn’t say this, I was referring specifically to [security] around intellectual property. We clearly have unannounced financials. We have personal data about our associates. We have HIPAA data in the U.S. that we need to protect. So, we don’t take this lightly at all. Specifically, with reference to the cloud, my observation is that when we got laptops, everyone was concerned about the information security of having email and documents walk out of the building each night in associates’ briefcases. We found a way to solve that problem. It’s not perfect, but the business value of the devices overwhelms the risk associated with the information security.

Similarly, when we started deploying smartphones, it was the same conversation, except people left them in taxi cabs, and we are figuring out ways to solve that problem. My view is with cloud computing, appropriately so, everyone is focused on the security aspects. But the business value and the flexibility of these offerings are such that I believe we will figure out a way to use them securely. Security will continue to be a priority but no longer the top priority.

This perhaps applies to more small and medium businesses – although there have certainly been a lot of security breaches with very visible large organizations in recent months – that many cloud providers whose reputations and existences are tightly coupled with making their environments are secure, in fact will have better resources and more to spend on the security problem than many of their customers. So, small businesses may have security exposures today that they’re not addressing because they don’t have the time or the talent or the money. Moving to a cloud provider for, say, collaboration, may actually improve their security materially.

SM: Fully agreed. Great. I’m going to ask you for a perspective on open problems from where you sit. If you look around, if you think back on all the different problems that you’re trying to solve, could you name some open problems where you would like to see solutions but haven’t; you would like entrepreneurs to work on these problems and deliver solutions?

LC: Tough for  a small firm, but we touched on one of them earlier. That is an enterprise-grade, cloud-based collaboration solution. I think there’s an opportunity there. There are large firms that have either incumbent solutions or consumer-oriented solutions, but view is a solution that provides an enterprise grade – and cross enterprise enabled – collaboration platform. [That’s] something that would be of interest to me.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Thought Leaders in Cloud Computing: Lee Congdon, CIO of Red Hat
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