Matt Hicks is President and chief executive officer of US-headquartered enterprise open source solutions company Red Hat Inc., which was acquired by International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) in July 2019 for $34 billion but runs as an independent unit. Hicks, who took charge from Paul Cormier (now chairman of Red Hat) this July, is an IBM veteran and has been at the forefront of cloud computing for over a decade. In a video interaction from the US, he spoke about his relationship with the chairman and CEO of IBM, Arvind Krishna, and Cormier, even as he shared Red Hat's overall roadmap, plans for India, and tech trends. Edited excerpts:
You have seen the company grow from just being about enterprise Linux to becoming a multi-billion dollar open source enterprise products firm. Having stepped into Cormier's shoes, are you planning any strategy changes?
The short answer is 'No'. I'm pretty lucky that I have worked within about 20 feet of Paul for the last 10 years. So, I've had the opportunity to have a hand in the team we've built and the strategy we've built and the bets and positions we've made around open hybrid cloud. In my last role, I was heading all of our products and technology and business unit teams. Hence, I know the team and the strategy. And we will evolve. If we look at the cloud services market that's moving fast, our commercial models will change there to make sure that as customers have a foot on prem (on premises) and in private cloud, we serve them well. As hybrid extends to edge (edge computing), that will also change how we approach that market. But our fundamental strategy around open hybrid cloud doesn't change. So, it's a nice spot to be here where I don't feel compelled to make any changes but focus more on execution.
Tell us a bit about Red Hat's focus on India, and your expansion plans in the country.
When we see the growth and opportunity in India, it mimics what we see in a lot of parts of the globe -- software-defined innovation that is going to be the thing that lets enterprises compete. That could be in traditional markets where they're leveraging their data centers; or it could be leveraging public cloud technologies. In certain industries, that software innovation is moving to the devices themselves, which we call edge (edge computing). India is a perfect example of the application of open hybrid cloud because we can serve all of those use cases--from edge deployments in 5G and the adjacent businesses that will be built around that, to connectivity to the public clouds.
Correia (Marshall Correia is vice-president and General Manager, India, South Asia at Red Hat): We have been operating in the country for multiple decades and our interest in India is two-fold. One is go-to-market in India, working with the Indian government, Indian enterprises, private sector as well as public sector enterprises. We have a global delivery presence in cities like Pune and Bangalore. Whether you look at the front office, back office, or mid-office, we are deeply embedded into it (BSE, National Stock Exchange (NSE), Aadhaar, GST Network (GSTN), Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), SBI Insurance and most core banking services across India use Red Hat open source technologies). For instance, we work with Infosys on GSTN. So, I would say there is a little bit of Red Hat played out everywhere (in India) but with some large enterprises, we have a very deep relationship.
Do you believe Red Hat is meeting IBM's expectations? How often do you interact with Arvind Krishna, and what do you discuss?
About five years ago, Arvind and I were on stage together, announcing our new friendship around IBM middleware on OpenShift. I talk to him every few days. A lot of this credit goes to Paul. We've struck the balance with IBM. Arvind would describe it as Red Hat being "independent" (since) we have to partner with other cloud providers, other consulting providers, (and) other technology providers (including Verizon, Accenture, Deloitte, Tata Consultancy Services, and IBM Consulting). But IBM is very opinionated on Red Hat--they built their middleware to Red Hat, and we are their core choice for hybrid. Red Hat gives them (IBM) a technology base that they can apply their global reach to. IBM has the ability to bring open source Red Hat technology to every corner of the planet.
How are open source architectures helping data scientists and CXOs with the much-needed edge adopting AI-ML (artificial intelligence and machine learning)?
AI is a really big space, and we have always sort of operated in how to get code built and (get it) into production faster. But now training models that can answer questions with precision are running in parallel. Our passion is to integrate that whole flow of models into production, right next to the apps that you're already building today -- we call this the ML ops (machine learning operations, which is jargon for a set of best practices for businesses to run AI successfully) space.
What that means is that we're not trying to be the best in natural language processing (NLP) or building foundation AI models on it or convolutional neural networks (CNNs). We want to play in our sweet spot, which is how we arm data science teams to be able to get their models from development to production and time into those apps. This is the work we've done on OpenShift data science (managed cloud service for data scientists and developers) with it.
Another piece that's changing and has been exciting for us, is hardware. As an example, cars today and going forward are moving to running just a computer in them. What we do really well is to put Linux on computers and the computer in your car, and the future will look very similar to the computer in your data center today. And when we're able to combine that platform, with bringing these AI models into that environment with the speed that you do with code with application integration, it opens up a lot of exciting opportunities for customers to get that data science model of building into the devices, or as close to customers as they possibly can.
This convergence is important, and it's not tied to edge (edge computing). Companies have realized that the closer they can push the interaction to the user, the better the experience it's going to be. And that could be in banking or pushing self-service to users' phones. In autonomous driving, it's going to be pushing the processing down to your rear view mirror to make decisions for you. In mining, it might be 5g. At the core of it is how far can you push your differentiated logic closer to your consumer use case. That's why I think we see the explosion at the edge.
As a thought leader, I would like your views on trends like the decentralized web and open source metaverse.
If you look at the Red Hat structure, we have areas where we're committed to businesses through our business units. But then we also have our office of technology that's led by our CTO, Chris Wright, where we track industry trends where we haven't necessarily taken a business stake or position but want to understand the technology behind it. The cryptographic blockchain decentralizing core technology foundations, which we watch very closely, is in this space right now. Because they do change the way you operate. It's strikingly similar to how open source and coding practices are seen as normal today but when I started this 20 years ago, it was a much more connected and controlled experience versus a very decentralized one today. So, we track this very closely from a technology perspective (but) we haven't yet taken a business position on this.
In this context, do you collaborate with IBM R&D too?
Yeah, we do. We worked closely with the IBM research team run by Dario Gil (senior VP and director of IBM Research) pre-acquisition, and we work even closer with them now. Post-acquisition, the focus on Red Hat and the clarity on IBM's focus on open hybrid cloud has helped us collaborate even better.
Last, but not the least, what is Red Hat's stance on the patent promise it made in September 2017, given that your company is now an IBM unit (which has over 70,000 active patents)?
We continue to collect our patents in a way that they won't be leveraged against other users of open source. Red Hat will do it (patent) for the benefit of open source and to make the usage of open source a little safer. My patents, I believe, are included in that, and will continue to be included in that going forward.