SuSE CEO on SCO suit, UnitedLinux and more

SuSE Linux AG is a leader among pure-play Linux distributors that serve the enterprise. The Nuremberg, Germany-based company introduced its new CEO, Richard Seibt, in January. Seibt took over as chairman of the executive board and chief operating officer for Gerhard Burtscher, an innovator who restructured the company's business, enhanced channel relationships and was one of the founding executive leaders of UnitedLinux, a consortium that includes SuSE, SCO Group, Turbolinux Inc. and Conectiva SA; the group's aim is to develop standards for Linux in the enterprise. Seibt, a former IBM software executive, said he will continue SuSE's mission of melding the mission of the open-source community with traditional IT. In this one-on-one interview with SearchEnterpriseLinux.com, Seibt further details his goals for SuSE, UnitedLinux, SCO's lawsuit against IBM, Linux innovation and development for the enterprise, and more.

What are your short-term and long-term goals for SuSE Linux? What we at SuSE are doing is weaving the values of

the open-source community with the solidity of traditional IT. What do I mean? The open-source community is the world's largest and most creative development lab. These guys work on Linux to solve their own problems -- and they have a great deal of pride. They also produce fixes faster than anyone I've ever seen.

Now -- bring all that creativity, pride and dedication to bear to help solve business problems. You have an amazing synergy there. We at SuSE bring technology, processes and business practices to bear that are unique in our industry. We have all the same properties as a software company, without the kernel development costs and with the tremendous innovative capabilities of the open-source community. What enhancements can users expect from SuSE Enterprise Server?
SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 is the only truly cross-platform, single-source Linux server product around. The next steps will be the release of the CGL service pack [carrier-grade Linux] -- six months ahead of the competition -- and the release of the first AMD Opteron 64-bit Linux server product the same day the Opteron is shipped.

Another first will be the release of the 'same code base' desktop product in the second quarter of 2003 -- that allows customers to utilize all the server skills they already have, the software and hardware certifications of SuSE Linux Enterprise Server and the ability to freely switch between thin and rich-client type configurations. Expect us to keep up that pace for all current and upcoming technologies, like blade architectures, clusters and grids. Due to SuSE's Autobuild process that allows such fast turnaround times, SuSE will expand this technology leadership and will continue to deliver first. Now that major vendors like IBM, HP and Dell are showing a significant interest in Linux, is this a huge threat to pure-play Linux companies like SuSE and Red Hat?
Quite the opposite. The attention given Linux by IBM, Dell, Oracle, SAP and HP will expand the breadth and depth of Linux. And, frankly, these companies bring a credibility to Linux that no Linux vendor could. A very large portion of our business comes from joint development and customer deals with those companies. The more successful they are, the more are we. With your IBM background, does that pave the way for more integration and partnerships between IBM and SuSE?
IBM and SuSE are already very nicely integrated -- as we are with HP, Oracle, SAP and others. We cannot afford to tie ourselves to one company only -- our customers do not; our partners do not. What has to happen to Linux for it to have widespread enterprise mission-critical adoption?
Only time. The momentum has brought us here and will continue to move us rapidly forward. There are a few technological advances that I talked about above that will help speed the adoption, and of course we appreciate Microsoft's pricing policies. But all in all, Linux is here to stay. How many SuSE Enterprise Server installations are there? Could you describe a typical customer? Are you finding more success in vertical markets?
We have shipped more than 20,000 SuSE Linux Enterprise Servers. The typical customer understands that there are a lot of benefits in moving to Linux. There is no typical customer size; it's where they are on cost pressure, stability and security requirements and understanding of the benefits of open-source versus monopolistic structures. There are certainly some verticals more eager to change, like financial industries, governments, telcos and manufacturing. But there are quite a few examples in all other verticals as well, from churches/charity organizations to retailers. What feedback do you hear from enterprise users regarding SuSE Enterprise Server and efforts that should be made to enhance it to further make it a mission-critical server?
The feedback we get includes things like expanding our partnerships and certifications with all major ISVs and IHVs and building an open 'enterprise readiness' infrastructure around our Enterprise Server and desktop products -- which we do. How important is it to have Red Hat join UnitedLinux?
We would very much like to see Red Hat join us. In many ways, our technology is superior to theirs (especially in our ability to maintain a single-source code across all platforms -- desktop to mainframe) and the addition of Red Hat marketers (which is clearly their strong suit) would benefit everyone. That said, it certainly is not necessary for them to join. But we will wait for their phone call. Could you explain the benefits UnitedLinux has provided to the Linux community and describe SuSE's relationship with UnitedLinux?
SuSE is a founding member of UnitedLinux and is the technology integrator. By setting a standard for the server distributions, we have seen much faster adoption in the ISV and IHV markets -- you can see that by our recent certifications with IBM, Oracle and SAP. Also, geographically, UnitedLinux provides a global coverage that had not been there before. That such a standardization was required for Linux is proven by such companies as IBM and HP, who have joined UL as technology partners. For the community, it delivers a standardized server platform that had not been there before. How has the business conversation changed regarding using Linux for mission-critical enterprise work from a year ago to today?
People don't ask anymore why they should use Linux -- but how and when. Also, the discussion around scalability to high-end machines is going away, thanks to the progress of the Linux technology and thanks to the industry partners and customers that can prove how well suited Linux is for mission-critical, high-demand type applications. There is still ground to cover, but nobody doubts anymore that Linux will shortly get there as well, thanks to the unstoppable innovation power of the community and thanks to the ones making Linux ready for the enterprise. How will SCO's suit against IBM impact SuSE's relationship with SCO and the Linux community in general?
We at SuSE were greatly disappointed to learn of the SCO Group's recent actions. While we agree that SCO has every right to enforce their intellectual property rights, and while we strongly believe that this does not impact Linux (as even SCO has made clear), we are concerned that these actions are not in the best interest of customers, partners and the Linux community. Accordingly, we are currently reevaluating our relationship with the SCO Group. That said, we want to very clearly and unequivocally voice our support of the ideals and goals of UnitedLinux and the Linux community.

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