Red Hat CEO: The nuts and bolts of open source

Heralding the dawn of the true Information Age

While the so-called Information Age has been touted since the public opening of the Internet nearly 20 years ago, the real dawn of the Information Age is just about to start.

That was the central theme of this morning's Open Source Business Conference keynote from Jim Whitehurst, President & CEO Red Hat, who also told the audience that open source is setting off the explosion of new innovation.

We are at the beginning of something that's as profound as our move into the Industrial Age

Jim Whitehurst, President and CEO Red Hat

"We are at the beginning of something that's as profound as our move into the Industrial Age," told the audience at the San Francisco conference.

Whitehurst's message was powerful, and all the more so because it was delivered in a matter-of-fact way. In fact, Whitehurst drove much of his theme home by talking about nuts and bolts.

Literally. Nuts and bolts.

Specifically, Whitehurst described the invention of the auto lathe in 1810 by Henry Maudslay, which enabled the mass production of standardized hardware, such as nuts and bolts. It would be the availability of such standardized components, approximately 60 years into the Industrial Age, that would spawn a massive explosion of innovation around industrial products.

Whitehurst made a point to note that we are now about 60 years past the invention of the computer. He now sees the standardization of IT components, which are almost as unexciting for IT people as nuts and bolts, as the new platform from which a massive growth of IT innovation will be launched.

This innovation is a pattern of value extraction that has been duplicated throughout history. Whitehurst described the progress of agriculture as a good example. 

For 10,000 years (or more), those who owned or controlled the land were the people who actually received all of the value of agriculture. Then, around about the 1800s, those who controlled the machinery derived more value than land owners. First, through railroads, then through companies like John Deere and Caterpillar once their machines were produced cheaply enough for farmers to own. 

In fact, Whitehurst said, the change was so profound that by the 1980s, all the value had been extracted from land ownership and into the machinery -- so much so that U.S. farmers could no longer afford to pay the taxes on their farmland, because so much of their capital was tied into the machinery.

Today, it's information and technology that's extracting the value. Therefore, a company like Monsanto can generate huge value from farming -- much more so then the John Deeres of the world.

The same phenomenon now holds true for the Information Age. All of the nuts and bolts are there. Linux, networking, cloud computing ... these are all pieces of a new platform from which innovation will explode. We are already seeing it in projects such as Hadoop, which is the darling of the big data movement.

"The exciting thing about cloud isn't the commoditization. It's the next layer up," said Whitehurst. "Something like Hadoop is just like an internal combustion engine created with all those nuts and bolts. What can you do on top of an internal combustion engine?"

There is still room for innovation within the nuts and bolts level, and there's a lot to improve and grow. But Whitehurst's vision of an Information Age that will springboard from the foundation of open source is a very compelling one, and something that even nuts and bolts makers should be excited about.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Zettatag and Open for Discussion blogs and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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