RealTime IT News

Q&A: C.J. Coppersmith, Director of Linux Strategy, HP

HP's impact on the Linux community has been widespread and well documented.

The Palo Alto, Calif., company was first to indemnify customers against SCO Group intellectual property lawsuits.

In 2003, HP reported $2.5 billion in revenue from the open source system. According to research firm IDC, it also had the No. 1 position in the Linux server market in the third quarter of 2003, with 28.1 percent of Linux server factory revenue worldwide.

More recently, it forged a broad partnership with Novell , that brings further legitimacy and support to the operating system.

C.J. Coppersmith is responsible for HP's Linux strategy and business planning, including relationships with distributors and software partners. He recently sat down with internetnews.com to discuss a broad range of Linux issues.

Q: Linux must be eroding share for HP's UNIX offerings HP-UX and Tru64. Is the new Linux business picking up the difference? Or is it an even larger opportunity than UNIX?

If you look at the evolution of Linux, it has moved from edge of network to what's been classically the UNIX low-end -- J2EE application serving, departmental data serving and so forth. Where we're going with Linux is less targeted at HP-UX/Tru64 and going to customers with the greatest needs and I think that those are the Sun customers. That's really our focus right now and our mission is helping those folks.

Q: Are NT migrations also part of the HP Linux strategy?

I think your underlying question is, 'When HP is going into a customer site, what guidance do we provide relative to UNIX, Windows or NT?' Basically we don't go in there with a policy that we're pushing one over the other. We go in there and find out what the customer's needs are, what their application profile is; are they risk averse, aggressive are they investing for business growth or to cut costs? You take that all together and the answer will become obvious. It's based in their need not ours.

Q: Why not create your own Linux distribution -- or desktop?

It goes back to our community-centered approach. Basically we work closely with Red Hat and SUSE/Novell, in the Far East we're working with Asianux in particular. Those distributions have emerged to meet the regional needs of certain customers, basically they're doing a fine job and we don't need to (create our own distribution).

There are some niche situations where we'll provide specialized distributions and specialized support. But in the general case, we're very happy with the products that our partners are providing.

Q: What fruits has HP seen from its Novell/SUSE alliance announced at Brainshare?

I think it has been an enthusiastic response, the press and analyst response was just phenomenal. It's generated a lot of customer interest as well.

Q: Were you worried about alienating other partners such as Red Hat and forcing them into a more IBM-centric relationship?

No I don't think so. We work closely with both partners. Right now I think they're approaching different things in different parts of the world for the time being. We're happy with both of them.

Q: What is HP's thinking behind supporting Novell's desktop strategy?

We're seeing two things happen in the marketplace. Linux desktops are emerging in the developing two-thirds world where there isn't a desktop installed base with strong desktop expectations.

There are some enterprise customers that we're starting to see that are saying 'We want to take our entire enterprise to Linux, that's our strategy.' For customers like that you need to have a desktop strategy to participate in their strategy. So that brings us to Novell. It's a nice broad offering and it helps us to play in those two markets.

Q: What do you run on your own desktop at HP?

When you get into the consumer and the, let's say, full knowledge worker, those are areas where the ability to use Linux on the desktop easily and well is going to be a person-by-person evaluation. We've got a three OS strategy. So I'm running a Microsoft desktop. I'm doing business planning for Linux at HP. I've got a guy working for me that just goes nuts with the animations. So what's best for me right now is still the Microsoft desktop.

Q: HP was the first major vendor to indemnify customers against SCO lawsuits. How important has that been in acquiring new customers?

One of the things we like to do is reduce customer risk and complexity in their experience with Linux at HP. I think we've had a lot of customers come to us with interest, a lot of customers who chose HP, and I think the attractor was the indemnification. It was a landmark move in the industry. A lot of folks, IBM, Red Hat and OSDL have followed on with that. Overall, there are ways in which that action and its follow-ons really helped to consolidate, mature and evolve the industry overall.

Q: Is the GPL flawed?

We completely support the GPL. I don't think that these exercises are any manifestation of issues with the GPL. At the highest level I think it is an issue of disruptive technology and growing pains with respect to the previous paradigm.

Q: I've heard IBM officials talk about how Linux has transformed their organization. From your vantage point, has Linux transformed HP?

I would say no, Linux has not completely transformed HP. I'd be happy to contemplate the extent to which HP has changed Linux. Linux is one of several avenues that we have for meeting customer needs. So in that sense it strengthens what we're already trying to do. Ways in which HP is transforming or strengthening Linux is there is that community aspect. It's sort of a benign presence if you will; we stay a part of and support the community.

There are motions that we make in the marketplace such as our partnership with Novell our ongoing partnership with Red Hat and our indemnification program that further the cause and allow Linux to go further into customer environments more easily and more rapidly.