AS LINUXCON gets underway in earnest in Berlin, our second Legend of Linux is Tim Burke, vice president of cloud and Linux engineering at Red Hat.
Burke has been in the tech industry for over 25 years, as long as Linux itself, and currently heads the development teams for Red Hat’s infrastructure projects, including everything from Red Hat Enterprise to Red Hat Storage.
He was previously a senior engineer in UNIX roles before Linus’s baby came a-calling. Now let’s see how he does with INQ’s magnificent 10-for-25.
What's your first memory of Linux?
Jon 'Maddog' Hall introduced me to Linus in 1994 in New Orleans at DECUS [Digital Equipment Corp Users Society]. We [at Digital Equipment Corp] had given Linus Alpha hardware and there were demos.
What do you believe has been Linux's biggest contribution to the world?
It proved that open source collaboration can change the world in ways far beyond what a single company could accomplish, no matter how big they are. Not only from a business perspective but in democratising access to the internet and digital content.
When did you start getting paid for doing work in Linux and what was it doing?
2001. Along with many of my friends from Digital we formed a startup called Mission Critical Linux focused on enterprise support of Linux.
Turned out we were ahead of the market there, followed by the dotcom bubble burst. Ultimately, though, our objectives of making Linux enterprise consumable were later realised at Red Hat.
What has been the biggest single challenge to Linux's success?
In the early days it was forking. Many companies, especially those new to open source, wanted to 'bang out' features quickly. To 'do it right' by requiring code reviews and approval that the approach is architecturally sound and generically useful can be time-consuming.
History showed that forks, while offering short-term gratification, are unmaintainable in the long run.
What has been its biggest triumph?
Consider where the majority of innovation is going on today: cloud, data analytics, containers, DevOps - focused infrastructure flexibility. Linux is the foundation of all these efforts.
And Linux has been rapidly evolving to accommodate the needs of these disruptive technologies. As a result, Linux is enabling open source innovation further up the stack.
In the early days of Linux, it was a trailing technology trying to catch up to proprietary Unix offerings. Today Linux is at the forefront of innovation. It is proving the viability of open source collaboration, which is far from over.
Do you believe that Linux has a future on the consumer desktop as well as the mobile and the server?
Absolutely! Because the consumer desktop has been evolving and Android-based tablets and laptops are the primary example. Consumers also are increasingly accessing the internet in other form factors, such as car dashboards and increasingly in IoT devices, all of which have a heavy Linux footprint.
One of the most amazing successes of Linux is its ability in a spectrum of hardware ranging from big iron servers to small footprint devices.
Why does the open source model work so well in a world of profits and shareholders?
For two reasons. From a business perspective it makes sense because you get to share in the output. Red Hat prides itself on being a leading contributor to Linux and many other projects (KVM, OpenStack, OpenJDK, Kubernetes, etc). Working in open source allows collaboration and aggregation of resources in ways we could not do alone.
Some companies care about high end, others low end. We guide and work together with many partners in the community, which provides a neutral environment where it is safe to work together. So, purely from a financial perspective, it is a compelling model.
The second main reason is from a personal perspective: there is a great deal of pride being part of something bigger. For example, knowing that our contributions benefit medical research and allow schoolchildren in poor countries to have affordable access to the internet makes it far more than a job.
This is the first conference since Linux and Windows became officially 'buds'. How is that partnership going, do you think?
Surprise, we learn that Microsoft are real people too! Their engineers are surprisingly clueful. They have been receptive to targeted collaboration in a positive way. Their efforts seem well intended.
What does the next 25 years hold for Linux?
Dynamic, agile infrastructure, à la DevOps, and NFV is in its early stages. Everyone sees huge promise in the flexibility and efficiency. Yet challenges remain in stitching it all together in a heterogeneous manner.
Linux is the foundation of all of this. In fact, some ask 'Is Linux done/over?' To which the answer is 'no way'. Linux is entering the next phase where it is not just the low-level operating system, but an increasingly core enabler for higher level and disruptive technologies.
Any anecdotes to share?
Staying true to open source culture and values has served us well over the years. We are constantly in competitive situations where customers don't appreciate the challenges community engagement introduces.
Because you don't hold all the cards. It is tempting to bend the rules with customer specific forks/hacks or other short-term approaches. Our developers aren't shy about being our conscience and moral compass.
In the end, we observe that companies that take short cuts and don't contribute to the community usually lose in the long term.
Tomorrow’s Legend of Linux is the man himself, Linux Foundation boss Jim Zemlin. µ
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