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Interop: Red Hat CEO Says Software Industry Broken

Jim Whitehurst believes all vendors, not just Linux distributors, need to embrace open source development methods to improve quality and reduce cycle times.

The commercial software industry is failing enterprise customers through overpricing, lengthy development cycles, and products with bloated feature sets that most customers don't use, said Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst, who spoke Wednesday during a keynote presentation at the Interop IT Conference and Expo in New York City.

"It's the vendors," said Whitehurst. "There's been no change in productivity in thirty years," he said, noting that commercial software products typically suffer from the same bug rates as they did three decades ago. "The business model is broken," said Whitehurst.

The main problem, according to Whitehurst, is a commercial development model under which executives, programmers, and marketers get together in an effort to predict what their customers want-and then take five years to build it. As a result, "half of all IT projects fail," said Whitehurst.

Not surprisingly, given his position atop a major Linux distributor, Whitehurst said open source development models offer fixes for many of the ills that plague commercial software. Most significantly, open source allows customers to participate in the product development cycle.

"All I need to worry about is whether our architecture participants include Google, Yahoo, and Amazon," said Whitehurst, referring to some of Red Hat's biggest customers. "Our solutions aren't based on our ideas about what you want. Our customers are building them," he said.

Whitehurst was followed on stage at Interop by Cisco VP Ben Gibson and Xirrus CEO Dirk Gates.

Gibson noted that, in addition to new software development models, the IT industry is embracing a best-of-breed approach to infrastructure build outs, under which multiple vendors partner to construct tightly integrated system stacks. "The vendor community is working together in new and interesting ways," said Gibson, who cited Hewlett-Packard's recent server partnership with Microsoft as an example.

"Best of breed vendors are working together while maintaining customer choice," said Gibson. "If vendors can do more integration up front it's an opportunity for IT professionals to get ahead of the curve" and add innovation, said Gibson.

Gates, for his part, said another feature that will become commonplace in the modern enterprise is wireless mobility. "Mobility is the driving factor that is pushing us toward using wireless technologies," said Gates, who noted that employees are coming to expect access in the workplace to the technologies they use daily in their personal lives.

Gates said new wireless standards, like 802.11n, are just as fast and secure as wired LANs, and perhaps more so.

Gates demonstrated the power of today's state-of-the art Wi-Fi systems by showing off a single Xirrus wireless tower powering 96 iPads distributed across eight racks. "Mobility creates such an improvement in our productivity it's inevitable," said Gates.

Interop, hosted by publisher UBM Techweb, runs through Oct. 22 at the Javits Center on Manhattan's West Side.

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