Small Business: How Red Hat Will Attack Microsoft Stronghold

At first glance, Microsoft's software portfolio -- Windows, Office, Small Business Server and Exchange -- still dominates the small business market. But Red Hat CEO Jim Whiteshurst says his company has found a back door into the small business market. Perhaps surprisingly, it doesn't really involve desktop Linux. Here's how Whitehurst sees Red Hat gaining a foothold in the small business IT market.

I sat down with Whitehurst at the Red Hat Partner Summit in Boston on June 21. While most of our conversation focused on larger customer bases, Whitehurst certainly sees an opportunity for Red Hat to push far deeper into the small business market.

So, is Red Hat preparing a big desktop Linux push? Nope. Instead, Whitehurst sees cloud computing -- everything from Google Apps to Amazon Web Services -- as Red Hat's doorway into small business. Whitehurst asserts that 90 percent of today's clouds leverage Red Hat's software. Moreover, he adds: Cloud computing can't exist without open source.

Instead of building and hosting its own cloud platform, Red Hat will depend on partners and service providers to leverage Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), JBoss middleware and Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) for their cloud efforts. Plus, Red Hat will continue to promote an open architecture, allowing ISVs to mix and match their software with Red Hat's own offerings, Whitehurst adds.

Whitehurst covers the strategy in this FastChat Video with The VAR Guy:

Of course, Microsoft has its own SMB cloud push -- involving both Windows Azure and BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite). And much of the recent Microsoft cloud effort involves a SaaS showdown with Google Apps.

Desktop Linux: Where's the Money?

Meanwhile, Whitehurst says Red Hat will continue to develop and support its desktop Linux offering but the company has no plans to make a major desktop Linux push. The reason: Whitehurst sees plenty of demand for desktop Linux but he has no idea why customers would actually pay for desktop Linux.

Also, Whitehurst says the age of the PC is over. Red Hat's goal is to ensure server and cloud connectivity to a range of devices, including the growing wave of mobile devices.

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