Infrastructure Matters–Insider Edition with SUSE’s Vojtech Pavlik

Infrastructure Matters–Insider Edition with SUSE’s Vojtech Pavlik

In this episode of Infrastructure Matters – Insider Edition, Steven Dickens is joined by Vojtech Pavlik, the GM of Business Critical Linux at SUSE. Their discussion revolves around recent controversies in the Linux community, specifically Red Hat’s decision to restrict RHEL source code to paying customers, and SUSE’s response by forking the RHEL 9 code and investing in it.

Their discussion covers:

  • The impact of Red Hat’s recent decision on source code availability and its ripple effect in the Linux community
  • Pavlik outlines SUSE’s multi-faceted product line including Linux and Rancher, and presents SUSE’s approach to supporting mixed landscapes without vendor lock-in
  • SUSE announces a $10 million investment to maintain a fork of the latest RHEL 9 code, offering an alternative for those dependent on RHEL sources
  • Early customer reactions to SUSE’s announcements and migration services have been positive, leading to various deals on their new fork and other SUSE products like Rancher

You can watch the video of our conversation below, and be sure to visit our YouTube Channel and subscribe so you don’t miss an episode.

Listen to the audio here:

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Disclosure: The Futurum Group is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this webcast. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this webcast.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of The Futurum Group as a whole.


Announcer: This is the Infrastructure Matters podcast, brought to you by The Futurum Group. We explore the latest developments in hybrid cloud computing and the technology that underpins it. In each episode, we’ll dive deep into the latest trends and technologies that are shaping the hybrid cloud computing landscape. The Infrastructure Matters podcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Please do not take anything reflected in this show as investment advice. Now your co-hosts Steven Dickens, Camberley Bates, and Krista Macomber of The Futurum Group.

Steven Dickens: Hello, welcome to the Infrastructure Matters podcast series. We’ve got an insider edition today, I’m joined on the show by Vojtěch Pavlik, the GM of Business Critical Linux, SUSE. Vojtěch, welcome to the show.

Vojtěch Pavlik: Hello. Very happy to be on the show.

Steven Dickens: So maybe let’s just get the listeners a little bit orientated here first, tell us a little bit about what your role does. I think the GM of Business Critical Linux kind of maybe gives us an insight, but just tell us a little bit about your role first.

Vojtěch Pavlik: It is a little bit of a given way, right? So I’m heading the Linux division at SUSE. So SUSE obviously has well more products than just Linux in addition to our best known Linux business. We of course also have the enterprise container management products, best known as Rancher. And then we are also developing a business within the edge industry. So there is quite a strong portfolio combining the Rancher and the Linux portfolio together to serve the edge market.

Steven Dickens: So Vojtěch, obviously dynamic times in the Linux business. Lots going on.

Vojtěch Pavlik: Oh, very much so. Yes, indeed.

Steven Dickens: I think anybody who’s tracking that space as I do will know that maybe the last month’s been more headlines than we’ve maybe seen in a while. I think perfectly time to get you on the show, really keen to get the SUSE perspective of what’s been going on in the community. Maybe talk about where some of the CentOS and that space in the market’s going. So maybe just get us started here and frame up how you are looking at this as the community starts to grapple with some of the big things that have been announced over the last sort of months, six weeks.

Vojtěch Pavlik: Right. I mean the initial trigger for most of the news was Red Hat’s announcements that they are restricting the availability of source code for its RHEL operating system only to paying customers, which is actually within the limits of GPL, the GNU General Public License, but was quite not well received, so to say, by a lot of people that were actually, depending on the availability of those sources, either rebuilding their own distributions or wanting to actually access the sources even on systems that were not necessarily a paid instance.

Steven Dickens: So maybe you’ve obviously close to the community. We’ve spoken before, I know you’re very well-connected into there. So maybe paraphrase what you’ve heard from the community over the last six weeks and maybe paraphrase what that sort of community reactions be.

Vojtěch Pavlik: Oh, wow. I’ll probably need to be a little bit careful because some of those messages were quite emotional to be honest, right? So let me just say that… Well, let me just add one reaction, a reaction to one of the things that was fairly prominent in Red Hat’s messaging and that is calling those community distributions that are based on the RHEL sources, calling them freeloaders, right? That’s a fairly loaded word. It basically really says you are just taking, not giving anything back. And there’s a line of thinking that actually supports that because there is not a huge amount of contributions into the code into upstream coming from the users of these or even from the actual community efforts that are doing the rebuilding. However, and this is something important to realize, these community builds or even company builds like Rocky before when CentOS still existed, CentOS or ALMA or others are building huge massive user communities, right?

There’s a ton of users of that. And all those users when they hit issues are actually reporting the issues back to the community projects, upstream projects, working with them to debug that and through that, providing a tremendous value to the overall Linux ecosystem. So it is not that this is all just take, maybe there is not really all that much direct involvement in upstream projects as somewhat would expect, but even just the existence of these projects is a tremendous boost for Linux overall for, well, the original stated intent of Linux to take over the world, which it kind of is. So when SUSE sees that with our stated goal of being, well, the open source company, we were thinking, okay, maybe we should step in. Maybe we actually can do something here, not let all these people, all these users, all these other projects stand in the rain.

We were realizing, are there many other companies that could do that. Well, obviously Red Hat doesn’t want to. They are feeling that their investment, which actually is tremendous and actually pretty significant into Linux, should come back in the way of revenues to them. And rather they would prefer users to flock over to Red Hat than to any of these freely available distributions. But we were thinking, “Okay, we are a company that actually is able to start maintaining and developing a fulling distribution.”

We are actually the only other enterprise Linux company that does that, right? You can look at all the other players in the industry and they are all taking the base from some other project, be it Red Hat or be it Debian, SUSE is really the only remaining one apart from Red Hat, that is doing the well ground development and providing together with and very grateful to our open SUSE community, providing a full Linux distribution to then also make into a, well, as my title says, business critical enterprise Linux operating system. So we said, “Okay, SUSE can do this. There is a need. Well, so let’s do that. Let’s establish ourselves as a key player in this space.”

Steven Dickens: We’ve talked a little bit about the community reaction and you were starting to take us there on your final statements just a few moments ago around what SUSE has announced. So maybe I’ll ask you the question. What are SUSE announced as your reaction to what the market’s doing and what’s the value you see for the community in what you’ve announced?

Vojtěch Pavlik: So what we have announced is a fork of the latest RHEL 9 code, that’s we are willing, or actually we have announced the intents to invest a significant amount of money. The announcement actually says 10 millions of dollars into maintaining this fork going into the future, such that people that are today relying or were relying because they can’t anymore, obviously, were relying on the availability of RHEL sources, well, can get their sources from this fork. It does not-

Steven Dickens: And what’s been the reaction to that, Vojtěch? What’s been the-

Vojtěch Pavlik: That was actually quite amazing, not just, well, the news coverage obviously, and you probably know about that a bit, but also the reaction from the other projects reaching out back to us from the communities, well, people love when somebody stands up for them. So that was all positive, but also from major companies and customers because, and this is maybe not so much visible in the communities, but many of our customers, I would say even most of them are running mixed landscapes. They are running not just SLES, so SUSE Linux Enterprise Server or a flagship product, a Linux flagship product, but also open SUSE and also some RHEL and also some Rocky or whatever. And they were now partially in the code. They were trying to figure out what to do with some of the loose ends, right? So stepping up this way also well gives quite some reassurance not just to the communities, but also, and that matters for us, SUSE’s paying customers. Not directly on SUSE’s products, but we do care about the whole customer, about their whole landscape so that they can continue operating.

Steven Dickens: And I think that’s what I’m seeing more than anything else in this hybrid multi-cloud world, customers are looking for choice. Maybe they’ve got something running on the public cloud with one distribution, maybe they’ve got something running in On-premise, maybe they’ve got something running in another public cloud. There’s lots of different options. Maybe they’ve made different choices, maybe applications have driven them a particular way. I think this flexibility and openness is certainly what I’m seeing in the marketplace. And customers are looking for those choices. Go back to maybe your statements and say, is that what you are seeing in this space?

Vojtěch Pavlik: Oh, absolutely. And this is also something that is, I would say, very intrinsic to how SUSE operates. Again, it comes back to our open messaging where we were saying, “Okay, we are not trying to build a one color stack, that we would be pushing to everybody. We are always partnering with other companies, allowing mixed heterogeneous environments and actually helping customers run those.” And this is happening more so today than ever because that had the heterogeneity is happening at all levels of the stack. Customers are already, let’s say, preset on some kind of management solution and they need everything else to work with it, or they are set on an operating system and are looking for our management solution to work with it, we do all of that. We do allow mix and match. We are always saying, “Okay, if you choose SUSE, you are not choosing a vendor lock-in.”

That actually brings me back to the idea of freeloading or freeloaders. So I was saying that all these community or small company rebuild efforts are actually contributing overall to the future of Linux by providing more users and hands by providing more brains that are focused on Linux and are helping the upstream projects indirectly with development. But we also need to realize that when it comes to choice and competition within the Linux market, it is not really about the code, because all of the code is open source, it’s free, and even such big companies like SUSE or Red Hat are only contributing a single digit percents of code to the overall Linux ecosystem.

And we are actually tracking that here at SUSE. We are providing, I think about, let’s say for the upstream Linux kernel project, like roughly half the amount of changes and fixes to the upstream kernel code compared to Red Hat, and both of us are in the single digit percentage numbers, but we are doing it with roughly, I don’t know, between 8 to 10 times smaller revenue. So per head we are actually investing into the upstream a lot more.

Steven Dickens: So I’ve also been seeing a lot as you guys start to react to the dynamic in the market, I’ve been seeing a lot of migration assistance, a lot of messaging, both at the technical and obviously at a marketing point of view, your marketing team are trying to take advantage of the dynamic. Maybe talk me through that migration as clients start to look through the options here and, “What should I do, where should I be thinking?” Maybe just describe some of the migration assistance and some of the thoughts.

Vojtěch Pavlik: Yeah, I’m certainly happy to. So obviously if you are a new customer, we will be recommending and pushing SUSE Enterprise Server, our flagship product or Micro if you are in the edge space or if you need a container platform, and we’ll be talking to you about SUSE Linux, adaptable Linux platform, the next generation stuff, but that’s coming next year, so you can’t buy that today yet. But stay tuned. But if you are a customer that already has a landscape, then potentially you would be running some unsupported or supported by somebody else Red Hat compatible or Red Hat based operating systems.

And you would be interested among the competition of companies that providing support to work with SUSE, because of our pedigree of 30 plus years in the business and very good references when it comes to quality of support. And then in addition to supporting SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, we can also offer to you SUSE Liberty, which is our migration offering, where you can convert your existing Red Hat compatible based installation, maybe Rocky, maybe whatever you are, maybe running an old CentOS still or a RHEL system and actually with just a few commands switch over and get all the support from SUSE. That of course is also nice if you also have some SLES instances, some SUSE Enterprise Server instances because then you can get all the support from a single provider.

Steven Dickens: And what’s been the early reaction, I’ve seen you double down, as I say, over the last sort of three or four weeks on some of those migration services. Have you got any early customer reactions that you can share with us?

Vojtěch Pavlik: Well, actually that was a bit funny, because after our announcements about forking the RHEL code base and our intent to make that available to the community and all that, we got a big influx of reactions and actually interest from various customers. And we have already signed some of those deals, but they are not all on Liberty. Some of them are on Ranchers, some of them are on SLES and some of them are of course on Liberty. But just by doing that, just by raising the awareness that we actually are a major player in this space, that’s been a quite amazing reaction. People not just wanted, just learned about it and wanted to work with us, but wanted to work with us because we have done such a move.

Steven Dickens: Fantastic. So if you were to summarize this very dynamic, probably one of the most dynamic periods in your career in this space over the last six to eight weeks, what would be those three takeaways, Vojtěch, that you’d start to think about? What should customers be thinking about? What should they be looking at from SUSE and really what’s the longer term horizon of how they should be thinking about this tumultuous last six to eight weeks?

Vojtěch Pavlik: Well, I would say first I would look forward for future announcements around this RHEL fork space because we are working with any on all interested parties and some other may be joining the fray, and that then will be announced. But so far I can’t really share much more. So this will still be interesting. The story is still unfolding.

Steven Dickens: You tease us, Vojtěch. You tease us.

Vojtěch Pavlik: All right. Then of course the next thing is openness and collaboration actually matters, and availability of source code actually matters because source code is needed as a base of trust. So if you can actually look at the code, you then know that what you are running is actually what you want to be running. And that needs to be spread broadly. A lot of people need to be able to look at the code to actually keep the provider of the binaries in check. And that includes us, right? That is why we are publishing all code, actually, not just as the minimum required code, but we are actually publishing our whole Git repos so that you also see all the change and everything. And I guess the last would be well SUSE will support you wherever you are.

Steven Dickens: Well, I think that’s a fantastic way to think about wrapping up. Vojtěch, really appreciate you coming on the show. Thank you very much for your attendance today.

Vojtěch Pavlik: It was a pleasure.

Steven Dickens: So you’ve been listening to the Infrastructure Matters podcast insider series edition. We’ve had Vojtěch here from SUSE. If you like what you hear, please click and subscribe and we’ll see you in following episodes.

Author Information

Steven is Vice President and Practice Leader at The Futurum Group, responsible for the Hybrid Cloud, Infrastructure and Operations Practice. Operating at the crossroads of technology and disruption, Steven engages with the world’s largest technology brands exploring new operating models and how they drive innovation and competitive edge for the enterprise.

With experience in Open Source, Hybrid Cloud, Mission Critical Infrastructure, Cryptocurrencies, Blockchain, and FinTech innovation, Steven makes the connections between the C-Suite executives, end users, and tech practitioners that are required for companies to drive maximum advantage from their technology deployments.

Steven is an alumnus of industry titans such as HPE and IBM and has led multi-hundred-million-dollar global sales teams Steven was a founding board member, former Chairperson, and now Board Advisor for the Open Mainframe Project, a Linux Foundation Project promoting Open Source on the mainframe.

As a Birmingham, UK native, his speaking engagements take him around the world each year enabling him to share his insights on the role of technology and how it can transform our lives going forward.


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