Interview

Red Hat: Fuelling the OSS movement : Javed Tapia, Red Hat India Pvt. Ltd

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How has your company’s journey been from the starting point? How do you envisage your present and future endeavors to bring OSS for the benefit of larger community?
We started talking to Red Hat, USA in 1999 when Linux was not a commercial operating system. It was very much for techies and enthusiasts rather than the enterprise. We felt that this technology is appropriate for India. The period from April 2001-March 2002 was our first year of operations. At that point of time, Linux was very much in its infancy. People had started looking at it but had not yet decided to adopt it. So what we did was build a programme to get Linux adoption. We called it our ‘Three AAA’ programme which would focus on awareness, appreciation and adoption.

There was a huge degree of awareness about Linux because Indians are very proactive on technology and have Unix skills. We needed to get people to appreciate Linux from an enterprise standpoint. Only if we get appreciation, will there be adoption. So we really worked on appreciation, in terms of large projects and proof-of-concept, building lighthouse cases, skills in migration, etc. We did a number of things that required a lot of investment from a people’s perspective as well as customers’ perspective. We held road shows, seminars, etc, across the country and all this was focused on enterprises. We were very clearly focused on the fact that we needed enterprise customers to get on the bandwagon if we wanted Linux to grow.

We see adoption taking off in a big way today. Rarely do we come across enterprises today that do not have some sort of Linux strategy in place. The more proactive and aggressive ones have an entire strategy on Linux. The less aggressive ones are starting out small but looking to grow their Linux strategy. So we find that Linux is rapidly getting acceptance at the enterprise level.

In the initial phase, we focused on acquiring critical mass and now we are expanding our reach to address requirements across the country. Red Hat is now working on creating an open source ecosystem by partnering with ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) to get more applications built or ported to Linux, we are working with the community in localising Linux and other open source software to the major Indian languages and working on popularising the use of open source software in education, government and industry.

Though Linux is low cost, there has been a common opinion among Linux users that it is difficult to install, it takes time to learn and there are more commands to be written to get a small job done. Keeping all these in mind, why do you feel an organisation/person should switch from Microsoft to Red Hat?
The Graphical User Interfaces for Linux and leading open source applications are as good as that of proprietary software. Users who are coming from the proprietary software world will get familiar with Linux within a day or two.

On the system administration side, system admins familiar with Unix can easily pick up Linux skills. Linux is one of the most popular server platforms for web servers, mail servers etc so the availability of these skill sets is growing daily.

Organisations across the world are switching to Linux because of reliability, affordability, security, manageability and the fact that Linux is less prone to viruses.

Linux is also known to have the lack of support for maintenance. Has there been any development in improving this issue?
Enterprise deployment of Linux is supported by leading companies like IBM and Oracle. Red Hat and other open source vendors also sell support, training and other services that corporates need and this has been a major factor that encouraged leading companies like Amazon, Merill Lynch, Central Bank of India, Bharti and others to adopt Linux.

What is your view on the way the use of OSS has been spreading in the last few years? Can you share with us the trend?
Most of the major educational institutions in India are big supporters of open source. The fact that anyone can modify the source code has lead to a huge amount of development in areas like clustering, grid computing, security, localisation etc. It is no coincidence that the growth of the Internet has paralleled the popularity of open source software. We see the network effect working in the open source world too! There are an estimated one million developers working on open source projects today, and as the pool of open source software keeps growing, it becomes increasingly attractive as an alternative to proprietary software.

How much, do you feel, Red Hat has played a role in the OSS movement?
Many of the leading open source developers work with Red Hat. The Fedora project which, is supported by Red Hat is one of the leading open source distributions. Red Hat India is contributing to the localisation of open source software in Hindi, Punjabi, Bangla, Tamil and Gujrati. We have been pioneers in persuading enterprises to adopt Linux and our success has helped establish the viability of the open source business model.

What is the kind of market for Linux/OSS in India/Asia?
We believe that the market potential is huge and untapped. For example, there are 120,000 schools in India and eventually all of them will need to have an IT component. There is a wealth of OSS available for education and schools and colleges can lower their cost of deploying IT by using OSS.

In e-Government, there is a huge requirement for the Indian government to reach out to a billion plus citizens and OSS can play a major role in this by making IT deployment more affordable.

The usage of IT in India is very low compared to the US and other countries and this is where our localisation initiatives will help. Localisation to Indian languages is an absoloutely essential step in taking IT to the masses because barely 10 per cent of India speaks English. Indian language Linux desktops will help us address the other 90 per cent of India and expand the market for IT.

How can the developing countries use OSS to their advantage to trigger the developmental process? Can you share the programmes of Red Hat currently underway in developing nations?
Localisation is a key area where open source can play a major role. In open source, everyone has the freedom to modify the source code and tailor it to his/her requirements. At a recent localisation workshop that was sponsored by Red Hat India, localisation teams from all the major Indian languages were represented. The advantage with open source is that the initiative lies with individuals, organisations or governments and not with proprietary software vendors who work according to their commercial agendas. Many countries have taken the initiative to localise Linux to their national languages and from an ICT4D perspective, this is a critical step towards bridging the digital divide that is made possible by OSS.

In what ways does OSS play a role in sectors like education, e-Governance and health? What initiatives Red Hat is taking to capture these sectors?
The philosophy of OSS is in tune with the philosophy of education which is based on peer review and sharing of knowledge. Red Hat has launched the Red Hat Scholarships aimed at encouraging OSS development among engineering and MCA students across India.

Is Red Hat safe to be used by the governments? What measures are you adopting to ensure the security?
Many defence departments in India and abroad are users of Linux. The National Security Administration in the US has released the Security Enhanced Linux.

Linux was chosen as the platform for this work because its growing success and open development environment provided an opportunity to demonstrate that the security enhancement functionality can be successful in a mainstream operating system. Red Hat is incorporating features of the same in Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

What are the cost-benefits of developing an independent software using Linux as an operating system?
Linux is predicted to be one of the most popular server operating systems over the next few years. Application developers therefore get a platform that reaches the largest number of users when they develop applications on Linux.

The demand is also being driven by users. Since Linux can run on commodity hardware, many users are demanding that applications that run on expensive hardware platforms and proprietary operating systems be rewritten to run on Linux. This enables them to lower the cost that customers pay for their solutions and helps ISVs expand their market reach.

Can you share with us more about the localised versions you offer? What other steps are you taking to make Linux more acceptable?
The next release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux will have support for Hindi, Bengali, Gujrati, Punjabi and Tamil. Red Hat has also acquired and released, under the GNU General Public License, high quality fonts in these languages. High quality fonts were a crying need felt by the Open Source community for the last several years and the fonts released by Red Hat finally fulfill this need.

 

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