Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Red Hat spins, SUSE plays it straight

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Red Hat is the 800-kg gorilla of the commercial Linux space. SUSE is about quarter of that in terms of revenue, yet is the second biggest of the three companies that vie for business attention in the burgeoning Linux market.

Last week, Red Hat announced its intention to get into the big data business; this week SUSE is trying to woo new businesses in Australia and keep its existing partners in the loop.

There could not be a bigger contrast in the approach the two companies take.

Red Hat's presser was a webcast, with Ranga Rangachari, vice-president and general manager of the company's storage business unit, making a presentation. I understood it to be a one-hour affair, but it ran for only 32 minutes.

Funnily, the webcast wouldn't work on Firefox on my Debian GNU/Linux workstation. Nor on my laptop, which runs the same distro. It wouldn't work on Firefox, even on my Windows 8 test box. It only worked on Internet Explorer on that Windows 8 box. The times, they have indeed changed.

Rangachari was heavy on bizwords and his presentation was mostly unintelligible. The only way to make sense of it - without regurgitating all that talk about synergy and incentivisation - was to ask the man some questions.

But that wasn't possible. I counted five questions at most and then the show was shut down. My second question was just on its way in. There was a lot more to ask but nobody was around to respond. The party, what little there was, was over.

The other writers present dutifully put up a few pars of Rangachari's gobbledygook after a few hours had lapsed, depending on other sources to make it somewhat intelligible. I never do that.

A day or so later I received an email from Red Hat, duly informing me that the slides of Rangachari's presentation - once again they tell the viewer little - were available on the web. A blog post was also available, outlining five must-haves for enterprise big-data storage. Such a feast!

What's more, the release said, Bryan Che, the general manager of Red Hat's cloud business unit, would issue a blog follow-up later in the day, offering his perspective on how big data fits into the company's open hybrid cloud strategy. What more could one ask for?

One thing appears clear to me - Red Hat is allergic to engaging with media people and would rather issue some whiz-bang release and hope to God that everybody reproduces a part of it. Human contact? No, it might result in some communicable disease.

In sharp contrast, the head of SUSE, the big boss, the chief, Nils Brauckmann himself, descended on Melbourne today, and Sydney (tomorrow), to talk with the attendees at a small conference this week and press the flesh.

Now Sydney and Melbourne are far from being the biggest markets for this medium-sized company and SUSE could well have fobbed that job off onto Hamish Miles, the regional sales director for ANZ.

But they did not. Brauckmann knows a great deal about management and marketing a company and its product. He possesses, in spades, the one thing that Red Hat lacks - commonsense and the human touch.

That's probably why he has been able to convert a company, that was just about breaking even as part of the publicly listed Novell, into one that is expected to touch $US230 million in turnover in its first full year of operation as a private, standalone business unit.

Brauckmann doesn't shy away from questions; he makes time to sit down with anyone who wants to talk to him. He answers awkward questions and is adept at giving straight answers. The man is a no-BS zone.

He has a good product to sell. So does Red Hat. No doubt on that score.

But Brauckmann is not trying to impress anyone with bizspeak. He's not afraid to engage. And therein lies the difference.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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