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Werner Knoblich,  head of strategy at Red Hat in Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA)

Werner Knoblich, senior vp and gm of Red Hat in EMEA

Gartner calls it ‘bimodal IT’; Ovum calls it ‘multimodal IT’; IDC calls it the ‘third platform’. Whatever you choose to call it, they are all euphemisms for the same evolutions in IT: a shift towards deploying more user-centric, mobile-friendly software and services that more scalable, flexible and easily integrated than the previous generation of IT services. And while the cloud has evolved as an essential delivery mechanism for the next generation of services, it’s also prompting big changes in IT says Werner Knoblich, senior vice president and general manager of Red Hat in EMEA.

“The challenge with cloud isn’t really a technology one,” Knoblich explains, “but the requirements of how IT needs to change in order to support these technologies and services. All of the goals, key metrics, ways of doing business with vendors and service providers have changed.”

Most of what Knoblich is saying may resonate with any large organisation managing a large legacy estate that wants to adopt more mobile and cloud services; the ‘two ITs can be quite jarring.

The chief goal used to be reliability; now it’s agility. In the traditional world of IT the focus was on price for performance; now it’s about customer experience. In traditional IT the most common approach to development was the classic ‘waterfall’ approach – requirements, design, implementation, verification, maintenance; now it’s all about agile and continuous delivery.

Most assets requiring management were once physical; now they’re all virtualised machines and microservices. The applications being adopted today aren’t monolithic beasts as they were traditionally, but modular, cloud-native apps running in Linux containers or platforms like OpenStack (or both).

Not just the suppliers – but also the way they are sourced – has changed. In the traditional world long-term, large-scale multifaceted deals were the norm; now, there are lots of young, small suppliers, contracted in short terms or on a pay-as-you-go basis.

“You really need a different kind of IT, and people who are very good in the traditional mode aren’t necessarily the ones that will be good in this new hybrid world,” he says. “It’s not just hybrid cloud but hybrid IT.”

The challenges are cultural, organisational, and technical. According to the 2015 BCN Annual Industry Survey, which petitioned over 700 senior IT decision makers, over 67 per cent of enterprises plan to implement multiple cloud services over the next 18 months, but close to 70 per cent were worried about how those services would integrate with other cloud services and 90 per cent were concerned about how they will integrate those cloud services with their legacy or on-premise services.

That said, open source technologies that also make use of open standards play a massive role in ensuring cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-legacy integrations are achievable and, where possible, seamless – one of the main reasons why Linux containers are gaining so much traction and mind share today (workload portability). And open source technology is something Red Hat knows a thing or two about.

Beyond its long history in server and desktop OSs (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) and middleware (JBoss) the company is a big sponsor and early backer of Open Stack, increasingly popular cloud building software built on a Linux foundation. It helped create an open source platform as a service, OpenShift. The company is also working on Atomic Host, an open source container-based hosting mechanism for a slimmed down version of RHEL with support for other open source container technologies including Kubernetes and Docker, the darlings of the container community.

“Our legacy in open source is extremely important and even more important in cloud than the traditional IT world,” Knoblich says.

“All of the innovation happening today in cloud is open source – think of Docker, OpenStack, Cloud Foundry, Kubernetes, and you can’t really think of one pure proprietary offering that can match these in terms of the pace of innovation and the rate at which new features are being added,” he explains.

But many companies, mostly the large supertankers, don’t yet see themselves as ready to embrace these new technologies and platforms – not just because they don’t have the type or volume of workloads to migrate, because they require a huge cultural and organisational shift. And cultural as well as organisational shifts are typically rife with political struggles, resentment, and budgetary wrestling.

“You can’t just install OpenStack or Dockerise your applications and ‘boom’, you’re ready for cloud – it just doesn’t work that way. Many of the companies that are successfully embracing these platforms and digitising their organisations set up a second IT department that operates in parallel to the traditional one, and can only seed out the processes and practices – and technologies – they’ve embraced when critical mass is reached. Unless that happens, they risk getting stuck back in the traditional IT mentality.”

An effective open hybrid approach ultimately means not only embracing the open source solutions and technologies, but recognising that some large, monolithic applications – say, Cobol-based mainframe apps – won’t make it into this new world; neither will the processes needed to maintain those systems.

“For some industries, like insurance for instance, there isn’t a recognised need to ditch those systems and processes. But for others, particularly those being heavily disrupted, that’s not the case. Look at Volkswagen. They don’t just see Mercedes, BMW and Tesla as competitors – they see Google and Apple as competitors too because the car becomes a technology platform for services.”

“No industry is secure from disruption, particularly from players that scarcely existed a few years ago, which is why IT will be multi-modal for many, many years to come,” he concludes.

This interview was developed in partnership with Red Hat

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