Open source connects the dots in the digital transformation

"Digital transformation" in front of a person in an office

Disruptive innovation drives the relentless development of technology. The way in which something adapts and evolves from one established pattern or model to the next-generation, what scientist historian Thomas Kuhn dubbed the “paradigm shift”, will establish who thrives and who will die. Businesses today are in the midst of a digital transformation, how they manage the process will prove critical to their long-term success.

ICT market research and advisory firm, IDC, defines the explosion of innovation and value creation in the industry as the third platform, built on the technology pillars of mobile computing, cloud services, big data and analytics, and social. IDC goes on to predict that by the year 2020, 44 percent of all IT spending and 100 percent of all IT growth will emerge from the 3rd Platform. Recent IDC research also shows that 60 percent of European businesses feel digital transformation is a major priority for the next 12 month. It is clear that digital transformation represents a massive opportunity for technology suppliers and providers.

Partner for a phased transformation

While digital transformation is a matter of when rather than if, this rush to the third platform should not be done blindly. This is where strong relationships come into the equation. Businesses need to analyse where they stand, where they want to go, and what is really key to the business. Furthermore, digital transformation should be phased in - if it is done step-by-step, technology practitioners will see what works and what doesn’t. End customers need integration and interoperability to facilitate their transformation plans. This represents a major business opportunity with system integrator partners.

Businesses will not rip everything out that is part of the classical environment. In truth there will likely be an indefinitely prolonged hybrid landscape where legacy structures exist alongside the next generation. There will be a requirement to maintain older systems, and so the question is how are those environments connected to the next generation?

And whilst enterprises are looking for ways to approach this daunting task – building the next generation infrastructure for dynamic growth and competitiveness whilst modernizing their datacenter and standardizing it, so it can be connected and adapt to the systems of the next generation – their partners are facing a similar challenge.

Partners are at a point where they have to make important decisions about which vendors to work with as those decisions could fundamentally impact their success in the future. They also have to focus on putting a sustainable strategy in place with those vendors.

Placing open source at the heart of the digital transformation

Developments in cloud, big data, analytics, and social and mobile technologies are all happening to a large extent because the underlying technology is evolving quickly, and Red Hat believes that this is happening because a lot of it is based on open source and is developed collaboratively between multiple communities and companies. Much of the cloud is based on Linux and open source based technologies, consequently open source is a key driving force in these changes and the rapid innovation cycles.

This in itself is a reflection of what open source already has and can achieve. For example, commoditising proprietary technology from old Unix systems to virtualisation software, or replacing operating systems with Linux and facilitating the rise of the standard x86 Intel server. Increased adoption of open source has made the core principles and ideals of open source more widely known, helping to fuel innovation in the cloud and digital transformation technologies.

And this should be a key first step for every enterprise to consider. Standardisation around open source models rather than proprietary solutions can help connect the dots between the new world and the legacy world.

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Taking a non-silo approach

In the context of digital transformation, many partners see that the world has become more complex. The lines are blurring and partners who have been specialising in one area need to grow competence in a wide area of technologies, working out how to evolve their offerings from second platform to third platform IT. Customers are demanding more from their partners; they need their suppliers to have a better view of trends and where the industry is going, and that they can provide more complete solutions. Not just the hardware, but also the operating systems, and maybe a platform-as-a-service. In the same way ISVs are challenged to provide their software on premise, as well as virtualised, in the private cloud or public cloud. Maybe even as Software-as-a-Service with pay as you go models.

As a result, most, if not all, of our partners are thinking about software such as OpenStack, which is currently developing as a de facto standard for private clouds. OpenStack can lower the barriers between public and private clouds and enable hybrid cloud models, which are key to staying flexible and agile.

However, while Red Hat has seen positive momentum toward open source, there is always a natural reticence to adopt something that is out of your comfort zone. Perhaps there is a misconception among some that it is not ready or robust, or perhaps they’re worried that they do not have the knowledge to make it work. Striking a partnership with a credible player in the space is one obvious way forward.

To make adoption of new technologies like OpenStack easier for partners, Red Hat is providing training and enablement for partners and is working with other market leaders to reduce the complexity of entering these markets. For example, Red Hat has developed reference architectures with Dell, Fujitsu, and Cisco to make installations for OpenStack pilots smoother. These solutions are well documented, regularly updated, and serviced and supported by the individual vendor and Red Hat.

Fujitsu as another example, took Red Hat software defined storage technology and built an appliance that is close in user terms to a standard storage product, so customers who are used to buying storage from say EMC, can now buy a storage solution which is based on Intel standard x86 hardware. Fujitsu has done the integration work so that it is proven and stable with a unified management interface. For many users it is very close to being a case of being able to just switch it on and have it work just like a storage appliance with all the advantages of software-defined storage.

Global IT consulting and services firm CGI meanwhile has established itself as a major supporter of open source solutions in the financial services sector. In addition to building and designing innovative banking systems, it is also developing open source resources via its Open Digital Services Center (ODSC) in the UK. The ODSC is working on bespoke, open source technology projects for CGI clients in the UK, and is also configured to work with clients elsewhere in the world. Embracing digital transformation means CGI has been able to move away from delivering much of its banking IP on a licence basis to providing on a software-as-a-service, helping it to deliver the economic and flexibility benefits of moving to the cloud.

Helping to navigate the digital minefield

Nevertheless, digital transformation continues to make waves across all industries, and although some partners are getting actively engaged and driving their digital transformation strategies and vision, there is still a lot of uncertainty amongst partners in the market. As a result, many are asking themselves vital questions such as, are they ready, do they already have the knowledge, is it something they really want to do it?

Training is a priority to help them identify the gaps and gain access to the resources needed to effectively support the digital transformation agenda. For example, our own online partner enablement programme Red Hat OPEN provides round the clock access to technical information as well as training resources, helping partners to understand where to start and get the most out of their future investments.

Preparing for success

In order, not just to survive the paradigm shift to the third platform but to thrive, people need to think more about what software can do. Because when hardware and operating systems are being standardised, the value in the infrastructure is created in upper layer software and management tools which enable companies to exploit the benefits of their classical and next generation environments in a more open and flexible way - avoiding lock in and being able to adapt and change quickly.

It’s an exciting time for open source, as more organisations everywhere are recognising the increasingly important role it has to play in driving digital transformation. As the industry continues to face enormous changes going forward, those who succeed will be those well prepared to evolve their businesses to fit with the digital strategies of their customers.

[i] Source: IDC 3rd Platform Spending Model, 2015, and Western European Software Survey, 2015

Frank Basinski is director, partner programmes & enablement EMEA at Red Hat