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Feature: Fedora/Red Hat

Interview with Craig Muzilla, VP of middleware at Red Hat

By Tina Gasperson on March 05, 2008 (9:00:00 PM)

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Earlier this month at JBossWorld in Orlando, Florida, Linux.com had the chance to sit down with Craig Muzilla, Red Hat's new vice president of middleware, to talk about his job, the middleware marketplace, and the open source community.

Linux.com: So you're the VP of middleware. Do you know any other VPs of Middleware? Seems like kind of a new thing.

Craig Muzilla: I'm VP of the Middleware Business Line, which is a general management role responsible for the P&L of all Red Hat's middleware products. We've structured recently into a number of business units; the Linux product line is being run by Scott Crenshaw and Brian Stevens. That's all of RHEL products and things associated with RHEL. Then there is the middleware line, which is JBoss and MetaMatrix, and anything else that we sort of throw into the middleware product line. And then business management, which Katrinka McCallum is responsible for. So there's a business leader or leaders responsible for each one of these business units. I'm responsible, with Sascha Labourey, for the middleware business units.

LC:What is your definition of middleware?

CM: Traditionally, it's always been a glue between processes. It's broader than that -- it's about the platforms for developing and hosting and running applications, as well as technology for integrating components of applications and composites of those applications. This is where SOA comes into play as well. It's everything from application servers or servlet engines to host and run your apps, to more glue-like code that helps you publish a service or orchestrate a number services together -- and then process management falls into the middle. It's a little bit amorphous, but it's basically foundational technology to help you create and run an application or combined applications together into process flows.

LC: Do you ever run into any confusion about that with your customers? Do you find yourself explaining a lot exactly what you're selling?

CM: I think there's sometimes confusion because someone who is just a software developer may only think about the app server and the tools to help them create the application. They may not be aware of things like ESBs and some of the other tools that help you bridge a number of applications or processes together. There are sometimes different people responsible for those technologies in an organization. If you use a broad term like "middleware," your typical application developer may not be thinking in the context of other things.

LC: And you're not selling to them anyway, you're selling to IT directors or CTOs.

CM: At the highest level absolutely, the SVP of architecture, they'll understand. But there would be people responsible, like application developers that are building one-off apps, and we would be selling to them as well -- and certainly the community aspect of this is ground up, if you have a lot of developers that grab it from the community and start playing with it, and getting accustomed to it. So at the highest level, where people are responsible for all the architecture, they understand the fullest range of the term and all the full range of products, but then you may have specialists that are not accustomed to [it]. If you're an integration expert you understand the role of the app server, but you're really not going into the department of the app server and you may not be using development tools. And vice-versa, if you're just creating apps [then] you may not really care about technology for integration.

LC: You called the open source middleware adoption process a "ground up" thing. I talk to a lot of CEOs and founders of companies who tell me that they way they discovered open source was that their developers told them about it. Are you seeing that happen a lot?

CM: It certainly has happened a lot. Basically the acceptance of JBoss was not so much at the corporate level, but through the developer -- some poor guy in a corporation responsible for doing something, creating something, building something. They're not given the right tools by their organization, so they go search the Web for things that might help them. And open source is attractive because of the value of it, especially community versions, and so when they grab things, there's a lot of word of mouth and you get the bubble up effect. So the reason we even started generating revenue and building a business was because of that populist ground up [movement]. But that only goes so far, now you need to get the message across to the senior level executive and give them confidence that this is not just a toy -- that you can actually do some very, very serious things with it.

LC: Why is now the right time to begin this push of open source middleware in the enterprise?

CM: If you look at the Linux business, we're probably at the same stage Linux was maybe four or five years ago. Where yes, it was being used, and yes, there were some serious apps running on Linux but not in a large manner. Over those four or five years, Red Hat did a lot of things: we did the split [of Red Hat and Fedora], we made RHEL rock solid, and now we talk with some corporations. We had one financial services firm come to us with almost a little worry in their voice [and say], "Do you realize this is a major investment thing? I'm running 80% of everything in my org on you guys. [laughs] and you are solid, right?"

With [open source] middleware I think we're at that same stage. It hasn't been paid mission critical yet. There's lot of mission critical applications running it, but it's just getting to the point now where people are starting to understand the value of open source. Vendors are doing things to make companies more comfortable with deploying open source middleware, and now you're just starting to see that real ramp up. So I think it's a timing thing. You start with some of the more commodity-like technologies like Linux, and then go a little less commodity, a little more sophisticated. But now the timing is right to start adopting that [open source middleware]. You'll see, probably in another three to four years, other technology [being adopted], maybe greater adoption of applications that are based on open source, which you don't really see now. There's a lot out there, but you don't really see a lot of adoption of those. It's just a phase of the marketplace.

LC: Do you think this adoption is going to go quicker with middleware than it did with Linux because we know how to do this now?

CM: There's a model for it in the marketplace. I think so. I would expect we would accelerate. The overall middleware marketplace is bigger than the operating system marketplace, and I would think you would see a faster rate of adoption growth because of the size of it. And the marketplace has already done it with something before -- the operating system -- and now they're ready to do it with more technology.

LC: How long have you been with Red Hat?

CM: Nine months.

LC: What's your background with open source?

CM: Well, I'm a middleware guy. I came with the acquisition of MetaMatrix and then was converted into this role. But I've been involved with Web services and SOA for the last eight to ten years in a number of early stage venture-backed companies, one of which was bought by IBM, one of which was bought by Sybase. And in every single one of these situations, we were either using some open source middleware or we were contemplating putting some middleware out into the community. But this is my first [time] really in the pool, jumping into the deep end, completely open source.

LC: So how is it been? When did it click for you, the open source philosophy and the whole community thing? What do you personally like about open source software?

CM: Well, I think very certainly there's tech innovation, but I think there's also business innovation, which is trying to find a better way to create software, have more flexibility, and build a business that's both beneficial for the business that we're building as a vendor, and beneficial for the customers. People talk about tech disruption -- okay, there's innovation going on there and certainly there will be some disruption and new technology -- but at the end of the day this is really business disruption and it's a model of business. I've been in the software industry over 20 years and what's cool for me is the business mode is so much radically different than what anyone has ever done. It has benefits for customers, benefits for us, it's very fascinating.

LC: What are the some of the challenges associated with that ever-present community?

CM: One challenge is that the community wants to see very, very rapid change, very quickly. When a company like Red Hat packages something up and hardens it, the community would rather see you go straight to the community bit -- but that's not going to be stable enough for an enterprise. And so, inside our company... our developers are not only employees of Red Hat, they're also members of the community and they have a free will and they can voice their opinion in this community, which is different than other software companies. So... if they throw some new innovation into the community version, there's a little push back, "Why don't you guys [use this]? C'mon, c'mon, let's get this to market." [But] we're a little slower, we can't take it to market yet, it has to be rock solid and that's value, that's why we get paid. If they really want that innovation they can go to the dot-org and grab it. So that's certainly one tension.

LC: I bet there are some interesting discussions that happen there.

CM: There are, even organizationally. We're all part of the same engineering team, but there will be developers who are concentrating mostly on adding new capabilities that are really closer to the community. There are developers that are taking what's coming out of the community and going through all the productization of it. And so you will hear interesting debates between those two sets of developers. All the developers have the same skill sets and come from similar backgrounds, but they're doing two different things and there's a little bit of, I wouldn't say it's friction, I would say it is a debate. Which I think is a good thing, it's a healthy thing.

LC: On those kinds of discussions, where does the buck stop on that?

CM: In terms of new technology and innovation, the community decides and we're members of the community. In terms of rolling out product for a customer so they can feel confident, the company decides. So developers and the community decide, and the company decides what's ready for the customer. That's the balance. If it needs to, it will come up to Sascha or myself and we will resolve it. It's a healthy discussion. It's not a problem.

LC: Do you find it's a good balance having Sascha, from the community, and then you...?

CM: The traditional software guy? I think that's true throughout Red Hat. There's people coming from different perspectives, but at the end of the day, we're an open source company and when we wake up, we look in the mirror and say we're an open source company. Everybody gets the religion. And it's a good thing.

Tina Gasperson writes about business and technology from an open source perspective.

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