The government is seeing new value in open source technology


Samir Sachdeva | December 11, 2010

Sandeep Sehgal, director, government, Red Hat India
Sandeep Sehgal, director, government, Red Hat India

Red Hat, founded in 1993, has become a leader in open source application platform based on the Linux operating system. Its solutions are not only cost effective and secure but also have a major advantage in terms of scalability and flexibility. Gerry Messers, president, Asia-Pacific, Red Hat Asia and Sandeep Sehgal, director, government, Red Hat India, spoke with Governance Now on the company’s journey in India. Edited excerpts from an interview with Samir Sachdeva:

How do you view India’s ongoing e-governance drive in the context of the entire Asia-Pacific region?

Messers: I think there are major changes in government space where upgrading of platform/ infrastructure is happening. Significant decisions have been made over a couple of months, not only in India but also across Asia-Pacific from Japan to further down to Australia. These are some defining moments in the IT industry with technologies like virtualization and cloud computing. These are very important in re-architecting and redefining the space.

What does Red Hat have to offer?

Messers: We are the global open source leader. We have solutions in the infrastructure space around Linux and even in middleware solution. Now, cloud computing will be another important area where Red Hat will play a role. We have a world- class solution which we launched in November last year called the Red Hat enterprise virtualization which will be a major technology to build great business around. The open source community is very strong in India. By far we have the maximum number of Red Hat certified engineers in India. 

What is the key advantage of cloud computing for government services?

Messers: If you ask different people, you will get different answers about what cloud actually means. When you build a cloud it’s the application space, the platform, the infrastructure, the software services, the infrastructure accessories – it’s kind of all combined. But the important part is that you have a private cloud or public cloud. In government or in private enterprises when one builds a cloud, one starts with a private cloud, gains experience and then moves to public cloud. Security is sometimes a concern, so one would like to have it within the enterprise.  But, later, there is no doubt that public cloud will be part of how overall IT is consumed. The size of projects business requirements will demand high CPU power for the data centres. So cloud will be just a different way how the IT infrastructure is actually built up and virtualization will be a key technology in building it up.

How has Red Hat India fared in India since its inception?

Sehgal: Red Hat was formed as a joint venture, in 2006, which was later taken over by Red Hat global. Since then, we have been part of Red Hat worldwide organisation. We have been in India for a decade. We have offices in all metros and even in cities such as Jaipur and Hyderabad. We have two organisations in India, one for sales and engineering while the other is a global support centre. Our business model is based on subscription and support is given by Pune or one of the other four support centres.  

How does your subscription-based business model work?

Sehgal: Being in open source our model is built around collaboration. There are ‘n’ number of people who celebrate making bits and bytes. Red Hat takes those bits and bytes from the community. Since we do not own the licence of the product, we cannot sell it as a licence. It is the community, which is developing it and we are offering it to the end customer. The value we bring to the table under subscription is in providing support, upgrading, fixing bugs and offering technology innovation.

Which projects is your company partnering in?

Sehgal: Indian government has approached the rolling out of e-governance in a very structured way ever since the national e-governance plan (NeGP) was formed in 2005. We are there in 60 percent of the projects that are being built on our platform, whether it is e-Post, Panchayati Raj application, or Sarvashiksha Abhiyan.

What about the state data centres (SDCs)?

Sehgal: When SDCs were conceived, virtualization was not conceived as a key tool. But the next phase is indeed virtualization and the government is evaluating the same. We had a discussion with the department of information technology (DIT) which is now thinking in terms of integrating these SDCs, maybe in the form of a cloud. For example, a data centre in Uttar Pradesh, which may be working on 60 percent efficiency can help another state, say, Madhya Pradesh to use it in a dynamic environment.

How much acceptance do you find for open source within the government?

Messers: Open source is already being used extensively. It co-exists with proprietary software. In large data centres, like the ones being implemented by the Indian government, the requirements are very heterogeneous. When you have a technology based on open source the interoperability component is high. In India, not only the government sector but the private sector is also seeing the new value and relevance of open source. In the recent downturn, it actually helped Red Hat as both the government and companies were looking for cost-effective alternatives. We are among the few companies that saw growth during that period.

How can the government promote open source technology?

Messers: Government has always influenced the use of technology. In some countries, the use of open standards is a requirement. It does not say what kind of vendor but the kind of technology. The use of open standards gives flexibility going forward.  Not only in India but in the region governments see the value of open source.

Let’s turn to Red Hat and the private sector.

Messers: In private sector, it is well recognised that open source is enterprise ready. You can run mission critical applications on the open source technology. The New York Stock Exchange is fully running on Red Hat technology. Tokyo stock exchange moved to Linux platform this year. These are very significant endorsements. Sometimes there may be misconceptions that since it is open source, it is not secure but it is the other way round. The US army and the Russian army have been using Red Hat Linux due to security considerations.

What are the key concerns of the clients who adopt open source?

Messers: Clients are concerned about migration risks. In such cases, we explain that this is a mistaken belief. Security is still a concern and we are trying to address this by sharing information, examples and explaining that open source is the most secure platform today.

Support is another big concern. How are you addressing that?

Sehgal: We have a telephonic and web support infrastructure. We provide 24*7 support to our customers. If they have an issue they can call or send us an e-mail. There are set service level agreements (SLAs) and for premium support the response to customers is much faster. We also offer support through our partners. We have a strong network of System Integrators (SIs) who offer support directly to the clients. But in backend support to these partners is also given by our global support centre. We are planning to have an India-centric support at Pune. It will be more like a local language support to the domestic clients.

What support have you received from the government?

Sehgal: We acknowledge the support of government which was one of our first few customers and accepted us with an open heart. We have executed the projects and enterprises have realised that open source is a serious product.

Tell us about projects where you partnered with state governments?

Sehgal: We had one with the government of Kerala and we are looking forward to work with other state governments. These are mainly to enable communities – whether a government community or education community. We are offering a very special price to government education clients. We have won Uttar Pradesh schools’ tender and we are doing the Rajiv Gandhi Siksha Mission in Madhya Pradesh.

Any particular academic collaboration?

Sehgal: We have another business unit which takes care of certification and that works with academies and educational institutes. Kalinga in Bhubaneswar is a strong partner. In fact, we have an academy in every state.

You are planning to establish an institute of open technology and application in West Bengal. Which other state governments are promoting open source?

Sehgal: West Bengal government is very open towards open source. So are Kerala and Assam. Tamil Nadu has adopted the technology in some projects. States like Haryana and Punjab are also showing interest. Projects like the unique identification have specified open source standards as their platform of choice.

What is your overall strategy in India?

Sehgal: We are following two approaches – direct approach, where we have teams which are directly engaged with the clients, and the indirect approach wherein we engage them through our partners.

How does India fit into your Asia-Pacific strategy?

Messers: India is among the top three nations on which we are focusing. In India, the partner ecosystem is very important which includes the distributors, business partners, SIs, independent software vendors (ISVs) as well as original equipment manufacturers like IBM, HP, Intel. We are investing in that partner ecosystem through training sessions, partner meet and more.

Any global lessons that India can learn?

Messers: Whatever we learn in the government space in, say, the US or any other country, we bring it to India, and vice-versa too.

Who are your key competitors?

Messers: In the Linux domain, we are the dominant player with 80 percent market share. In the middleware, we have the JBOSS solution and there is no competitor within the open source domain.

Sehgal: We are innovating continuously to provide more and more to the customer.



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