What are the roadblocks to the success of an open source platform in India? Rajarshi Bhattacharyya, country head, SUSE India, answers this question in an exclusive conversation with Jagmeet Singh of OSFY. Edited excerpts…
Q How has SUSE grown in India?
Completing 25 successful years feels great! Founded in 1992, SUSE has come a long way in the Linux market. We are constantly involved with the open source community and have many ‘firsts’ to our credit. We were the first enterprise OpenStack Cloud distribution, the first Linux on the mainframe, and also the first Linux to make KVM and Xen available. Besides, we are the primary sponsor of the community-supported openSUSE Project, which develops the openSUSE Linux distribution.
Gone are the days when SUSE was known merely as a distro used by a group of edgy techies. SUSE is now a common name in the IT industry, and that has not happened overnight. The combination of a clear strategy, a strong and buzzing community, innovation beyond what anyone imagined and the conviction to make it big, have made SUSE a success story.
In India, we are growing by double digits, and with open source being at the heart of the Indian government’s IT Policy, we are expanding at a significant rate. SUSE powers the ‘Make in India’ initiative established by the government, by enabling cloud services and value-added service providers with cutting-edge, enterprise-class open source technologies. Moreover, adoption of open solutions from SUSE allows these organisations to build products and solutions that are comparable to their foreign counterparts.
Q Do you see any notable differences between India and developed regions like the US and UK, as an open source solutions provider?
India has a very distinct IT policy which is governed by open standards and actively promotes adoption of open source. So, being an open source company, we have significant support from the authorities. Apart from the government, enterprises in India are going global, and in a fiercely competitive environment, organisations look for tremendous cost-effectiveness, as well as flexibility and reliability as the key deciding factors when it comes to technology adoption. Open source is the perfect choice to help enterprises overcome all such hurdles.
Q What are the major challenges for an open source company like SUSE to operate profitably in the Indian market?
Today, the major challenge that an open source organisation faces in India is the unavailability of skilled resources. Open source organisations such as SUSE have been making huge efforts to popularise the adoption of open source right from the elementary school to a higher level of educations. There are a lot of universities, school boards and technical education centres nowadays that are adopting open source education as a part of their ICT curriculum.
Q How do you overcome those challenges?
SUSE invests heavily in developing course content on cutting-edge new technologies. There are online academies as well as on-demand training available to master these newer technologies. On top of these, YouTube releases by experts help individuals to master the available technologies.
There is a unique programme wherein SUSE enables academic institutions to subscribe to all its course materials at zero cost. These materials are regularly updated. Also, students and individuals can get themselves certified on technologies like OpenStack and software defined storage.
Q What are your prime strategies to enable developer engagement around your offerings?
We have SUSE Studio that allows developers to build applications on open source technologies. Recently, the company has also released a Container-as-a-Service (CaaS) to cater to the developer community. The new model is the way forward for DevOps across India.
Also, SUSE encourages the developer community by bringing in a straightforward ISV (independent software vendor) certification process, which allows ISVs to get their products certified easily on SUSE. As a community programme, Open SUSE is a huge success.
Q Do you believe community support is important to grow an open source product?
Indeed it is! Open source communities encourage innovation through collaboration. They provide a platform for developers to keep improving the programs or code in line with the latest technological advancements.
Without open source, many of the technologies we enjoy today would never have been developed or would be restricted from being widely used because of the patent law. But thanks to open source communities, those technologies have developed at a breakneck pace over the past few decades.
Q How do you manage to market the entire SUSE portfolio to Indian customers?
We are a 100 per cent channel-driven company, and our partners are the key to our success. They are valued the most within the organisation. We have separate teams for managing large, medium and small channels. We also maintain a well-defined tiering system among our channels and have a wide network of both Tier-1 and Tier-2 to cater to the needs of various markets and customers across India. Recently, we collaborated with 70-80 partners, and it is a constantly growing network in the country. Channel expansion is of great strategic importance to our business.
Q What makes SUSE Linux a distinct option in the growing space of open source distributions?
SUSE Linux is reliable, highly scalable and includes cutting-edge technology. Moreover, it comes with best-in-class support.
Q Do Indian enterprises view Linux as a part of their IT deployments nowadays? Is there any difference from the past?
The acceptance of open source among Indian enterprises has been remarkable. Looking back at Linux adoption just five years ago — almost 60 per cent of servers were on proprietary OSs, and only 35 per cent used to be on Linux in the data centre space. Now, the mix has changed dramatically, and Linux has taken over proprietary systems.
In the computing space, organisations are looking at an alternative option, because most of the applications are Web enabled and need a browser to access them. They do not see the need to pay for a browser. Application software like LibreOffice, which is a complete office suite, does everything that Microsoft Office does. This is exactly why large customers like the government of India have consciously decided to embrace open source. Neither government organisations nor enterprises want vendor lock-in. Also, with a proprietary system, you lose the freedom of choice.
Q What are the key drivers enhancing Linux adoption in developing markets like India?
Adoption of OpenStack Cloud and software defined storage (SDS) are the most disruptive technology trends in the Indian market. There is a marked shift in the way we do business now. Indian organisations are looking for a much more scalable platform, through which they can increase operational efficiency as well as deliver the desired result in a short turnaround time.
Q Why should enterprises go in for a software-defined data storage model in today’s world?
The amount of unstructured data that floods an organisation’s data centre is just too high to ignore. And for businesses that continue to rely on traditional proprietary storage, this indeed is a nightmare.
Software defined data storage has long been hailed as the panacea for all such enterprise storage woes. It isn’t a new concept, but the ability to separate the storage software from the hardware is a game-changing innovation.
New architectures like Ceph-based storage solutions can scale infinitely without the need to refresh the entire platform or disrupt the existing functioning environment. Ceph uses intelligent algorithms to store data in a highly distributed manner. This means that it can optimise system performance without the need for teams of administrators to monitor and manage the storage constantly. Ultimately, with the data deluge and shrinking storage budgets, the future of storage is indeed going to be open source.
Q What are the major obstacles in the present SDS space?
There aren’t any particular challenges when it comes to adoption. But there may be a lack of the economies of scale generally associated with the cloud. Many SDS providers claim that they provide the data centre with a cloud-like hyper-converged architecture. But in reality, only a few provide cloud-like models.
Q Where do microservices stand in the ever-growing IT sector in India?
Apart from DevOps and containers, microservices have been gaining popularity in the IT sector recently. Microservices is not an entirely new idea, but the concept is fresh. It can play a crucial role in the current, dynamically challenging business environment by helping companies to better align their businesses and IT needs.
Basically, microservices is a combination of several smaller services, or simply, a suite of small services, where each service has a well-defined boundary and all services are interfaced through the API. This new approach enforces a level of modularity, making the individual services run faster to develop, test and deploy. Even developers get the added benefit as they only need to focus on a single service, rather than the entire monolithic application, which is easy to understand and maintain.
Q Is it only the increase in cloud adoption that has started pushing microservices, or is there an intrinsic interest among developers to begin with microservices?
I don’t think that it is only one or the other that has increased the adoption of microservices. Both the cloud and the intrinsic interest among developers has led to this. The cloud provides an easy-to-deploy option without getting into capital expenditure.
Q What do you feel about the Indian government’s interest in open source?
Undoubtedly, India is one of the biggest users and contributors to open source technology. It has come a long way and has evolved tremendously in the past few years—from viewing open source as just a cost-efficient alternative to proprietary solutions, to an imperative technology in the government’s flagship ‘Digital India’ programme. Besides, the digital transformation has increased the adoption of open source both by enterprises and the government, across the country.
Today, digitisation, digitalisation and digital transformation are the three key words governing business environments at different levels for different industries. For IT-ITeS organisations, digital transformation is one of the most demanding roles that the CIO must play. The government sector, on the other hand, is witnessing a combination of digitisation and digitalisation. In the BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance) space, it is more about digitalisation and then embracing digital transformation through marketing to ensure that the bank reaches out to its end consumers through all possible ways.
Considering the volume of data that the government needs to deal with, open source is the only scalable and robust platform that can ensure a better result. Another aspect that goes in favour of open source is ‘interoperability’. The government’s infrastructure and systems need to support multiple systems, standards, applications and processes, which is possible only through the adoption of open technologies. Open source can be run on mainframes or desktops, without compromising on performance or quality. The government, as a customer, also appreciates freedom of choice— the biggest advantage of open source.
Q What are your views on the government’s open source policy? Is it beneficial for open source providers in any way?
The government has a well-defined open source policy. Yes, as the technology space continuously changes, it is the responsibility of open source organisations like us to contribute and enable the government to adapt to the changes in the landscape.
Q Lastly, what’s next at SUSE to attract enterprises to open source in India and across the world?
Our software defined storage and Container-as-a-Service are the next two attractions for global enterprises.