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How Linux Changed Our World In 30 Years: Brent Schroeder, Global CTO at SUSE

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Guest: Brent Schroeder
Company: SUSE
Show: Let’s Talk

With Linux celebrating 30 years since Linus Torvalds announced his creation, individuals and companies are coming out in force to talk about how the open-source operating system helped to change their lives and their industries. SUSE is no stranger to the evolution of Linux. As one of the first major companies to distribute a business-level Linux operating system, they’ve witnessed first-hand the transformations inspired by the platform.

Brent Schroeder, Global CTO at SUSE, points out one of the reasons Linux has been so instrumental in driving transformation is that it helps overcome complex challenges and has been a catalyst for business and technological changes. Schroeder says, “If you reflect back 30 years when Linux came into the IT scene in 1991, Linus regarded it as a project, a hobby, to be able to use some new x86 hardware he had with no aspirations of building a product rivaling the likes of Windows and UNIX.” He adds, “And if we fast forward to now, Linux touches what we use every day, at work, at home, and everywhere in between. And it has become one of the most widely recognized and adopted software projects in the world.”

Schroeder also brings up how Linux reimagined how communities and companies develop code and helped to establish the very concept of open source (a term that didn’t even exist until Linux was born). He continues that thought to say that we probably wouldn’t have such an extensive and vibrant open-source community had it not been for Linux.

As to the role SUSE played in the growth of Linux, Schroeder says that SUSE has played a key role in the journey of Linux evolving from a student project to a technology enterprise businesses depend on. He says, “The first focus was how do we apply this to the enterprise and build enterprise credibility and readiness to it.” According to Schroeder, SUSE was a leader in partnering with IBM to bring Linux to the mainframe. He says, “Getting Linux on the mainframe, doing the high-availability work that we’ve done, and now the live patching for continuous availability, I think that’s really what’s brought it along to the enterprise and enabled it to just continue to grow in so many ways.”

Linux has done a lot of things right. One of the most important areas was innovation and the ability to create unique capabilities and still be able to collaborate with others in the industry. Collaboration, according to Schroeder, is the key. He hits home with an example of containers. To that, Schroeder says, “It’s Linux that really was at the root and the foundation that people built containers on…then began to snowball and grow from. And again, people were able to collaborate and extend on that.”

When looking toward the future, Schroeder believes, thanks to Linux’s adaptability and adjustability to suit workloads, it will continue to be the platform of choice. He also expects the kernel will continue to be more and more modular so it becomes even more efficient at applying only those services needed at the various layers in the system.

“I still believe that Linux will be the number one choice of operating system for both the infrastructure environment and the base image for containerized applications for the next 30 years,” said Schroeder.

Summary for this interview/discussion was written by Jack Wallen


Here is the rough, full transcript of the show:

Swapnil Bhartiya: Hi, this is your host Swapnil Bhartiya, and welcome to a special edition of TFiR: Let’s Talk. Today we have with us, once again, Brent Schroeder, Global CTO at SUSE. We are celebrating 30th anniversary of Linux, Brent. And if you look at the history of Linux, and if I’m not wrong, you may correct me, SUSE was actually one of the earliest or maybe the first company to kind of commercialize Linux. So you folks have been in this journey for so long, you folks have also gone through a lot of different times. The company has gone through different phases, but now you’re also one of the kind of largest independent vendor for Linux cloud, and you folks to so many things. So there’s so much to unpack, so much to talk about. But let’s start with the history, with the story, with the origin. If you reflect on these 30 years, what impact do you see Linux has made on our work? And we’re not talking about just the tech work, we are talking about our work because no matter what we do, everything is touched by Linux. And no matter what kind of technology we are using, somehow Linux is there in the backend.

Brent Schroeder: It is, yeah. I’d say over the course of the last 30 years, Linux has been instrumental in driving transformation in industries around the world by helping overcome complex challenges, and a catalyst for business and technology change. And it’s interesting if you reflect back 30 years, when Linux came into the IT scene in 1991, Linus regarded it as a project, a hobby, to be able to use some new 386 hardware he had with no aspirations of building a product rivaling the likes of Windows and UNIX. And now if we fast forward to now, as you mentioned, Linux touches what we use every day, at work, at home, and everywhere in between. And it’s become one of the most widely recognized and adopted software projects in the world.

And on the way, it reimagined how communities and companies develop code, and it even helped establish the concept of Open Source, a term that didn’t even exist when Linux was born. And I would go as far as to say that if it wasn’t for Linux and Linux’s widespread adoption and the applicability that it’s had is so many areas, that we may not have an Open Source ecosystem as extensive and as vibrant as we do today. And as you mentioned, SUSE, we’ve been in it from nearly the beginning. From 29 years ago, SUSE has been at the heart of the transformation, and it’s one of the key Open Source innovator.s and SUSE has been leading the edge of bringing Linux to the enterprise in gaining enterprise credibility, from the first enterprise distribution to Linux on the mainframe and now with live patching and really driving the forefront of continuous availability on Linux.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Now, if you look at SUSE, you did bring some points there, while it could be a chicken and egg kind of situation, like one success led to the success of others. But a lot of commercial vendors also played a very big role in making Linux successful that it is. So can you talk about how did SUSE help or what role SUSE played in the success of Linux?

Brent Schroeder: Well, like I said, I think one of the keys, especially early on, was moving Linux from being, say, a project and a hobby… And I remember when Linux were just coming out and a lot of the engineers in organization, I was at Dell at the time, they were starting to talk about, “Hey, there’s this new project out there.” And they were really enamored by it. But I think what really shifted it was the application of Linux to the enterprise and moving from being kind of that backroom, hobbyist, the techno nerd, if you will, being the primary user, to people being able to apply it to business. And I think that is really the tipping point of where it was the start of it really becoming both commercially viable and becoming pervasive as businesses saw how they could apply it to solve their problems, how they could become more efficient, they could become more secure, they could become more reliable.

And SUSE has played a role all along that journey. Really the first focus was at how do we apply this to the enterprise and build enterprise credibility and readiness to it. And as I mentioned, we were a leader in partnering with IBM to bring it to the mainframe, which back in the ’90s was still the pinnacle, in the early 2000s, the pinnacle of enterprise credibility. So getting Linux on the mainframe, doing the high availability work that we’ve done, and now the live patching for continuous availability, I think that’s really what’s brought it along to the enterprise and enabled it to just continue to grow in so many ways.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Can you talk about what some of the characters that you see of Linux that you’re like, “Hey, you know what? This is what it has done right and this is really great.”

Brent Schroeder: Oh, well, that’s… All the things that it’s done right… I’ve always been on the enterprise side on Linux. And few of the things in the projects that I’ve been involved with, both before SUSE and since SUSE, really come down to this last point that you made of collaboration. My journey with Linux began in about 1999, 2000 at Dell. And there, this notion of creating an enterprise version was really just starting to come to bear. But where Linux hadn’t gone yet at that time, was opening up hardware. Hardware, and peripherals, and everything were still extremely proprietary. And almost every driver in the industry was a closed source driver that was installed. And we spent a tremendous amount of time, and this speaks to the collaboration across the industry of competitors, and collaborating as partners to really extend that Open Source notion to areas that companies had, before that, felt as their crown jewels, the very proprietary basis on which the products were built, was composed and captured in that software.

And I think that’s the barrier that Linux really broke through, was the recognition that, “Hey, I can still do things innovative. I have a model for creating unique and innovative capabilities. And yet, still be able to collaborate with others in the industry.” So I think that’s one of the things that Linux really did right.

And then, I think just how they break apart the operating system to allow or enable people to collaborate from around the world in different areas, whether we’re working on building the hardware, whether we’re building application platforms. And I think one of the greatest examples right now is the container world. As I look forward, one of the questions I get asked quite frequently is, what’s Linux relevance in this container or cloud native space, because I’m doing everything in containers? Well, if people just step back and think about that question for a moment, the container is Linux. So it’s Linux that really was at the root and the foundation that people built containers on in this whole model, then began to snowball and grow from. And again, people were able to collaborate and extend on that.

So, Linux is alive, and well, and thriving, and we’re going to continue to be the platform of choice. And I think it’s got many evolutions to go, coming ahead as we look at different platform models. It would be another one that I think is what Linux did right. As far as the number and diversity of platforms that Linux can run on, is unrivaled, from microcontrollers and microprocessors, to phones, to laptops, to data centers, to cloud, wherever, whatever technology Linux has been able to adapt along the way, and stay relevant in multiple directions. And I think that’s a big deal because it provides consistency for the users. If I’ve got Linux on an ARM system, I’ve got Linux on an Intel system, I got Linux running in the cloud, I’ve got Linux on a microcontroller, there’s a degree of familiarity, consistency, security, resiliency, with that across the board.

Swapnil Bhartiya: If I ask you from your or SUSE’s perspective, what kind of industries you have seen recently that are being transformed or were transformed because of Linux, which you would traditionally not even consider in that space, and which were also quite challenging?

Brent Schroeder: Well, I think there’s a couple. One, I’ll refer to that I think is a good example of the breadth and flexibility, again, is the retail industry. It’s, been through many iterations over the last three decades, along with Linux. The e-commerce boom came around about and started off at about the same time as Linux, and I’d say we’ve been through multiple generations of that. And so Linux has helped companies apply that the value of consistency and robustness across the ecosystem. So in retail environments now, they’ve got the ability to have the same environment on POS systems in the data center, in the cloud, on the network switches. So the entire ecosystem in the company or the retail company themselves, in addition to their supply chain, are all operating in a Linux environment, and it goes to that flexibility. I think that’s been transformative in the types of applications and the integration of applications working together across the ecosystem, and really unbound from physical constraints of where they are.

So the retail industry can now meet you, the customer, where you want to be met. Do you want a web application? Do you want to meet at the point of sale? Do you want to use your mobile device? All of those, grounded on Linux, and providing greater consistency and portability across that environment. And then they can connect to the systems in the data center, running the backend processing. Again, Linux supporting those. So it really helps the retail industry which, in most cases, operates on razor thin margins, deliver incremental capabilities, incremental experiences at a better cost point than they would have been in any other model.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Now, as we were discussing earlier that the whole development of Linux itself is kind of controlled by the community itself. And one thing that pandemic has kind of taught us is that don’t talk too much about future. But even if I try to give you a crystal ball and ask you, hey, realistically, especially from the enterprise’s perspective, what kind of advancements, what are the areas that you either see that we will be expecting from it? Or what are the areas that you would want for that advancement when we talk about Linux kernel?

Brent Schroeder: Yeah. I think when we talk about Linux and where it’s going in the future, I have no doubt that it’s going to continue to be the platform of choice. And I think one of the key strengths that it has that we all already talked about in its history, is its adaptability and the ability to adjust to changing platforms and workload profiles. And I think that’s going to just continue in the future. And one of the key strengths of it is the diversity of platforms, application architectures, experience requirements. I mean the biggest change I expect from a Kernel standpoint, and maybe it’s more of the ecosystem standpoint, is that I expect it to become more and more modular, really being able to apply only those services needed at the various layers in the system. And the notion of how you install an operating system, I think is going to evolve dramatically in the coming years and become much more, like I said, modular in how it goes.

So depending upon the application that you’re going to run on it, you may only load up the container services and a cloud shim module, if you want to run it in the cloud. If you’re running it in a data center, the set of hardware interfaces, and then the personality that you want to put on top of that depending upon the application that you want to run. But I think from the evolution of the operating system, I think that’s really the fundamental aspect that we’re going to go through as we go forward. And I still believe that Linux will be the number one choice of operating system for both the infrastructure environment and the base image for containerized applications for the next 30 years.

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