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‘We are aiming to make Red Hat a guiding lighthouse for developers all across the globe’

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(L) Ray Ploski, director, developer marketing and strategy (R) Bob McWhirter, director, Polygot

The open source world is getting bigger with the arrival of new solutions. But Indian developers are yet to play a vital role in its expansion. Ray Ploski, director of developer marketing and strategy for Red Hat, and Bob McWhirter, director of Polyglot for Red Hat, in a conversation with Jagmeet Singh of OSFY, talked of some new ways to enhance developer engagements from India.

Q What does Red Hat have for developers in India?
Ploski: Red Hat primarily focuses on making things easier for Indian developers. As of April last year, we have started the Red Hat Developers Program, which is a no-cost initiative to give away solutions like Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and Red Hat JBoss Middleware for free. We ask developers in this model to pick up our tools and use them for their own solutions. What we are trying to establish about the solution is that developers can be successful with the tools and technologies in just their 9-to-5 schedules, from Monday to Friday. They don’t need to spend their nights, weekends or holidays to develop new offerings. Ultimately, we are aiming to make Red Hat a guiding lighthouse for developers all across the globe.

McWhirter: We are offering a zero-cost product model as the open source is always free for developer projects. Normally, developing a product from a prototype project requires quite a large transition. But with our program, you can start immediately with the product and reduce the time consumed in the development.

Ploski: We are focusing on corporate developers, who are experienced and family-centric. We are not looking particularly for those in Silicon Valley. Instead, we are on a move to make open source development very simple for everyday developers around the world, including India.

McWhirter: As the majority of developers are not the superstar variety, who work on their projects in the nights and during weekends, we designed our program accordingly. Developers generally try to get their job done. Thus, we don’t want to waste their precious time while fulfilling their requirements.

Ploski: India is already one of the leading countries for those developers who want to work on their projects on a daily schedule. Thus, we are positioning our program as a key to solve challenges for Indian developers, in addition to the developers worldwide. India’s traffic to our Web properties has always been No.1 or No.2. Outside of the US, it’s the highest rate. Indian cities like Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad are among the top-ten cities worldwide for our traffic.

Q What is hindering Indian developers to opt for open source development?

McWhirter: It’s not the case of India alone; it has been so all across the world. The number of people contributing to open source is so much smaller than the people utilising open source. This gulf exists even in North America. There are several large companies that use a lot of open source solutions, but it is very hard for them to spend their time in maintaining or improving open source with some new changes. I see this trend changing slowly. However, people don’t have time to contribute back to open source as it’s not their job. Some specialised companies allow their developers to spend some time giving back to the open source community. The open source ecosystem is okay with all this. That being said, we would love to see more people contribute back on open source developments.
It is also important how you define contribution. If I run different open source projects for my community and that community gives me feedback, it works as a contribution to me. It help to guide me about the things I need to improve in my projects, and how.

The next step of the layer is a bug report. If no one reports bugs, then there is no value in your product and you won’t be able to improve it. But if there is a bug report, you can fix that bug and make your existing product better for its users. This not only improves the product but also acts as a great contribution.

For example, we created software that could be used in ten thousand different ways, but no one ever used it in so many ways. Using the bug reports, we got to know they used it in just 15 ways, and those were the most important ones to focus on. So bug reports and general feedback are great contributions.

We have a lot of people from India who contribute at that level. A large number of Indian open source users are using different solutions and find problems that help us improve our presence. There is probably more contribution coming from India than one can imagine. It just depends on how you define contribution.

Ploski: It is certainly a broad range. At one end you see large corporations identifying a particular project to fulfil their goals, and approaching Red Hat to be able to improve that project. It helps them make sure that the project will survive in the long term and can be successful moving forward. That’s how we receive more upstream contributions from India and global regions.

Q How is Red Hat expanding the OpenStack platform?

Ploski: We are currently the No.1 contributor to OpenStack, which actually sees quite a bit of adoption from all kinds of industries. Specifically, telcos are planning to deploy their NFV (network functional virtualisation) on top of Red Hat’s OpenStack. Our vice president of engineering, Paul Cormier, firmly believes that this is part of the future — to be able to have your own Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) that you can have either openly, or you can have a hybrid architecture with data centres and use the public cloud.

Q Security is a big concern for the open source world. What does Red Hat offer to secure open source developments?

McWhirter: Linus’ Law says, “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” You could find a bug which may just be something that doesn’t behave correctly, or a bug that breaks your entire software or steals your money. Security problems are primarily based on functional issues. There are some bugs but no one sees them until one guy figures it out and then he’s got the keys to the kingdom.

In the open source world, a lot of people are looking at this aspect. Red Hat specifically has a security response team that looks for holes. We know certain classes of bugs that cause security issues and buffer overflows. Our security response team investigates codes and actively finds solutions for problems. If you are a subscriber to Red Hat and you’ve got some issues with our solution, we will push a fix right to you. You don’t even have to think about it. We always make sure that you are up to date.

Closed source vendors don’t want their users to know about any bugs in their solution. You could be vulnerable in that case. Whereas, with open source, there is no such thing as the vulnerability is not disclosed. Loopholes sometimes emerge but we make sure that we can get those fixes pushed out from our side.

Ploski: We have an excellent record for our response to bug fixes. Across all the airlines, telcos, healthcare companies, commercial banks and US executive departments, open source is legitimate. Moreover, open source tends to have a much faster response rate on the bug patch front compared to proprietary, closed source solutions.

Q The Indian government has recently adopted an open source policy. What’s your take on this move?

McWhirter: This initiative is certainly good and highly fruitful not just for the public sector, which will benefit from the new decision, but is also beneficial to the open source community as a whole. The US government and 40 nations around the world have also started supporting open source in their operations. This represents a preference for those who develop open source solutions. Such developments will ultimately save tax payers’ and the government’s money, in the long term.

Q What is the most important factor driving people to choose open source?

McWhirter: The most important factor that underscores the need for an open source solution is when you realise that you have a voice. If you are buying from a closed source company, you can make suggestions to its forum or through email, but no one is going to consider your suggestions in their entirety, in their next release. Companies developing closed source solutions have their own roadmap, and they can’t construct their design based on your suggestions. Although we also work on some roadmaps, we are influenced by our customers and the community. So even if you haven’t paid us any money but started using our product, we are on IRC and have a public email address to receive your feedback. You can reach us and directly affect our products, just by using your voice.

An open source solution can address the primary cause of your problems, whereas a closed solution offers you ‘a least worst solution’ for the same problems. Open source lets you make your voice heard among the public by simply being Internet active. Furthermore, the chances are quite high that you can make the software better by just giving your feedback.

Ploski: In the case of traditional software, you might not be able to get a free solution. You can try and opt for a freemium solution. But open source makes things better by allowing you to share your words. Overall, it’s not just one factor but a combination of ownership and citizenship that directs you towards an open source solution rather than a closed one.

McWhirter: The community behind a product plays a big role in its success, in the open source world. It’s an important and more accurate means of connecting you with like-minded people. If I have no one using my software, why am I even creating it? I need suggestions and feedback from the community to improve my presence in the world of software.

Q Why should developers focus on open source?

Ploski: It’s simple. Open source allows you as a developer to see if it is your bug or my bug. This means that I can debug anything, step by step. It gives you full clarity when finding solutions to issues.

McWhirter: To make it easy for you to fix bugs that exist in your solution, the source augments the documentation. If I get into the source, I can resolve the issues right from the root and improve the experience. I can find out whether it’s really a bug or just some misunderstanding.

As a developer, everything that will make my career successful is related to open source. You can advance your own career by being an expert for open source and create new solutions for open source. If I work in the closed source space, producing just closed source solutions, all I have to show for my work is my resume. But if I am contributing to open source, I can point to some of my repositories on GitHub and say I did this or I contributed to that.

Open source gives you proof of what you can do. In the US, many organisations have already started asking candidates to share the link to their GitHub account. It’s becoming a trend, which could reach new heights in the coming future.

Q Is it a myth that Java will soon vanish from the software market? How is Red Hat ensuring the future of Java?

McWhirter: If you read some tech blogs or community posts on Facebook and LinkedIn, everyone is proclaiming the death of Java. I am quite sure that Java isn’t going anywhere and is here to stay. It’s still growing and getting bigger. People have been predicting Java’s death for the last 10 years, but it’s still in development.

Red Hat has its whole middleware division based on Java. We are the No. 2 community of JDK. Also, we are supporting OpenJDK and driving a lot of standards around Java EE, as well as steering the Java Community Process and working on all the key JPAs.

Ploski: We at Red Hat brought out a project called Hibernate that pushed Java Community Process and JPA standards. There are only three major application services —JBoss is one of them and it is growing rapidly with Java power. Likewise, we were the first to certify Java EE Server after Glassfish.

Additionally, we are impacting not only the JVM and Java specifications, but also the other languages that run on top of JVM.

Q How do cloud computing and open source go hand-in-hand?

Ploski: There is a new paradigm for the actual deployment of open source on the cloud. Red Hat calls it the open hybrid cloud. We’ve invested decades in data centre type of technology and the evolution of virtualisation. The cloud could be defined as both the private and public clouds. But, of course, there is not one size that fits all. You will have some clients that will never put their entire data on a public cloud. So you need to find out how you can resolve that problem by deploying an open source solution. You can pick options like OpenStack and standards to suit the need. In this way, you can use open source with a cloud.

Q What are Red Hat’s solutions for startups?

Ploski: We have a program called Red Hat Connect for Technology Partners. It helps startups and SMEs utilise open source solutions with ease. There are three big segments in open source deployment — 10 per cent are academics or contributors, 40 per cent are businesses and 50 per cent are startups and independent software vendors. So Red Hat Connect is the area that offers a path to not only developers but also to enterprises and startups.

Apart from Red Hat Connect, entrepreneurs can join the Red Hat Developers Program and gain knowledge through Red Hat’s developer site. We also offer Red Hat Enterprise Linux to enterprises in India to help them expand their operations with the open source platform.

Q How is open source aligning with IoT?

Ploski: It’s been great for Red Hat to align open source with the Internet of Things (IoT). Our president and CEO, Jim Whitehurst, has already begun the process of bringing open source closer to IoT. Open source makes IoT developments faster as you can fix bugs in your program before providing them with connected devices. Also, the security aspects of Red Hat will enhance the growing space of IoT.

McWhirter: IoT is a pretty broad spectrum. You have edge devices that continually stream data and the signal-to-noise ratio is not necessarily something that hits directly to a cloud. We are developing solutions particularly for gateways and not for edge devices. We work on gateway devices and provide one of the most secured solutions, which is even more secure than a closed source solution.

Ploski: Some combat zones use a mix and match of open source and IoT right in the battlefield, to let machines communicate with each other and exchange secret information.

McWhirter: Red Hat has an official group within its core team that works on IoT developments. It’s an extension of our business that has been around for a very long time. IoT brings a lot of different protocols and packet styles that we adjust using our own methods.