Red Hat: An Open Platform for Democratized Data

Q&A with Adam Clater, chief architect, public sector


How has Red Hat’s role evolved since it was founded in the early ’90s?

For a long time, Red Hat endeavored to be a boxed software company—the kind of company where you would buy software along with an agreement for a finite amount of time in a retail channel. That was Red Hat’s goal.

Eventually, we realized we needed to take a hard look at what was actually going on in the software space and the competitive landscape. There were a variety of Linux distributions that were coming on the market and it became difficult to differentiate the true value of buying a Red Hat Linux distribution (as it was referred to) as opposed to buying any other Linux distribution or even using a free one.

The decision was made around 2003 to essentially get rid of that boxed software business and to go full enterprise. We wanted to lead the community still in that consumer-hobbyist marketplace, but take all the things that came from the early endeavors and put them into Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Today, we have this bifurcated mode where our community efforts are coalesced via Fedora Linux and our customers use Red Hat Enterprise Linux. This is a model that we’ve found works well for the development of open source software.

What does Red Hat offer with regard to GEOINT services and capabilities?

As you go about building GEOINT capabilities, you want a very consistent baseline for an operating system on which to build that infrastructure. Throughout the Intelligence Community, many GIS providers, and the federal government, Red Hat Enterprise Linux has become the de facto standard for building enterprise applications and mission-critical workloads.

Customers don’t want to have to re-baseline and re-certify their applications every time a new version of an operating system comes out. If I’m building a GIS capability, I want to be able to write that GIS capability on an operating system that I know is going to be supported in the long-term. We support Red Hat Enterprise Linux for 10 to 13 years depending on the subscription. We drive that ability and that value throughout the entire application development space.

Who are some of Red Hat’s current customers?

Red Hat is quite active throughout the entire Intelligence Community, especially for GIS workloads, as well as with other federal agencies. We have great numbers around the number of banking institutions, airlines, and health care agencies in the Fortune 500.

What differentiates Red Hat from other software companies, specifically in the open source field?

Red Hat is a 100 percent open source company. For every product we sell, the source code is available to our customers. That’s different from a lot of other open source companies that may be pursuing things like open core, and models where they have an open source component, but there’s some sort of software intellectual property that they see as their value-add.

At Red Hat, we see ourselves as the value-add. When you buy Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Red Hat JBoss solutions, we are going to support those technologies by making sure they conform to certain standards—like FIPS 140-2, which is highly important for government agencies, as well as common criteria certification. Red Hat Enterprise Linux is common criteria EAL-4 certified with virtualization and containers, which is valuable for our customers within the DoD and intelligence space.

In the mid-2000s, we partnered with the National Security Agency in the development of security-enhanced Linux. SE-Linux is a core component of how we achieve a lot of those security certifications and it assures we can run multiple security levels on a single operating system. It’s been incredibly valuable within the Intelligence Community for achieving certifications and assuring we are able to implement the security as defined by those organizations.

What GEOINT trends are you seeing right now, and how is Red Hat responding to them?

What’s amazing is that, if you look at GEOINT industry 10-15 years ago, you found yourself going to just a handful (or less) of key vendors who were the only ones defining how geo-data was being made available, how it was being used, and what you could do with it. Now, we’re witnessing the democratization of that data. It started with fairly simple things like Google Maps. The explosion of capabilities we now have that are now available in these communities is incredible.

The spread of open source communities has led to that democratization. At Red Hat, we’ve shown the world how to make participation in open source communities both valuable and sustainable. We’ve shown how to do this in an open way and it is core to our creed that we be open and stay open. That’s incredibly valuable when you begin to talk about individuals making contributions of their time and effort to collect, codify, and aggregate data in a single place. There’s an implicit reciprocity that, when I make a contribution of my data or my capability, I’m going to get access to data and capabilities that others have made. Without that, I don’t think we’d have seen the explosion of data and capabilities in the GIS market and in GIS communities that we see today.


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