Red Hat wrestles with Linux apathy

Facing stiff competition from Microsoft and a market sceptical about Linux, Red Hat's VP and general manager for EMEA, Werner Knoblich, is under no illusions that there are many miles to go before open source software is established in the MEA region. He explains why Red Hat is relying on the channel to do most of the leg work.

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  April 2, 2008

Facing stiff competition from Microsoft and a market sceptical about Linux, Red Hat's VP and general manager for EMEA, Werner Knoblich, is under no illusions that there are many miles to go before open source software is established in the MEA region. He explains why Red Hat is relying on the channel to do most of the leg work.

What is your channel stategy in this region?

Red Hat does not have a direct presence in the MEA region. We work entirely through partners. We've had a partnership with Opennet here for some time. They provide frontline support and if they cannot they are fully integrated with our support centres around the world. We have different types of partners in our business model. On one side we have OEM partners and then we have the two-tier distribution channel, which works with the reseller. The distributor recruits integrators which sell to, educate and offer pre-sales support to the end-user. Our goal is to recruit more advanced partners in this region that are able to articulate the products to the end-customer, but everything will be indirect.

Are you planning to develop some form of physical presence here in the region?

I'm here to get a feel for the market. We have expanded in Western Europe and are now looking at a direct presence in this country. I've had meetings with the DIC authority to find out the process of registering the company. It's not a question of ‘if' we will come, but ‘when' we will come. I would like to get things moving because I'm hearing there's much potential here, but low market awareness. Right now we are relying too much on our partners.

What would you say to partners still sceptical about Linux?

They are sceptical because the market maturity is still lacking behind the US or Europe, and skill levels are not as sophisticated. As with anything technology driven, it's always received with scepticism. Smaller companies find it harder to trust something they do not know, when a Microsoft package feels much easier. The education and Linux knowledge is still lacking so we will work with universities to get people trained in Linux and open source. In our meetings with partners here, there is a concern about the lack of skills.

Microsoft has an established channel, regional offices and government support in the UAE. How can Red Hat really compete?

Sure, Microsoft is a big competitor, but where Linux is successful is the Unix to Linux migration. The typical Unix customer uses Solaris. When they want to move platform to a lower cost Intel-based or AMD system, but still want all the hardware possibilities, they usually don't head for Microsoft, with its issues. So that is where we start.

What is your assessment of the reseller channel in this region?

There's a lot more work to do here. We need more proactive, rather than reactive, partners. Leads develop by customers saying they want to buy something. Partners then ask ‘where can I source it?' And they find Opennet. We have to create awareness in the market and encourage partners to go proactively into the market.

What barriers to growth are you facing in this region?

The two current barriers in the market are skilled people and awareness. We're launching a concentrated action to rectify this. We plan to work closely with universities to install Linux training, tackle awareness by training specific areas in the partner network and encourage promotions.

Your job title also encompasses Africa. What is Red Hat doing in that region?

We separate Northern Africa from the South. South Africa is an interesting market. We work with distributor Linux Warehouse and have done business with some large systems integrators, such as Dimension Data. They're struggling with similar problems to here, but adoption is much higher because in South Africa there's some top-level support for Linux and awareness is higher than here. Our partner managers fly regularly to South Africa and are very connected to the support centre. Like here, we want to hire more local people and eventually open a regional office.

What are your aspirations for the Middle East business?

In two or three years we hope to have more than 30 employees here. But it depends on how successful we are in driving the adoption. I see a lot of potential and we are the clear leader in open source. Gartner made the prediction that 80% of all software will have open source software elements by 2012. The train has left the station and nobody will stop it, but the question is how fast can we get the engine going?

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