Red Hat’s CTO on U.S. government certification

Red Hat Inc. is hardly alone in wanting more federal business to offset weakened private-sector demand, and the Raleigh, N.C., vendor believes it will be helped by having received the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency’s Common Operating Environment (COE) certification for its advanced server products. COE certification means that Red Hat’s server operating system meets government security and interoperability standards.

Linux, an open-source system, is getting more interest these days from federal agencies, but the strongest advocates for open source are overseas. Michael Tiemann, Red Hat’s chief technical officer, discussed government use of Linux today with Computerworld.

Many governments are developing policies encouraging the use of open-source software. The U.K., for instance, says open source should be considered alongside proprietary software in government procurement. Should the U.S. adopt similar policies?

As a citizen and a taxpayer, I am interested in the United States making the most efficient use of its resources. As a representative of Red Hat, we have not taken any positions on the policy debate.

Why not?

When we went to Wall Street [two years ago], we had all this technology, and it was undeployable. There were no two applications that could run on any one platform of Linux. We have now gotten to the point where we can satisfy a fairly large amount of Wall Street’s computing requirements. We just got COE certification, and if we had made a single phone call to the [White House] Office of Management and Budget before yesterday, how could we presume to influence the policy debate if we don’t have a qualified system?

How does U.S. and state government adoption of Linux compare with private-sector adoption?

In a lot of ways, it is very similar. There has been a lot of government adoption, largely under the radar and tactical — people who are implementing small Web servers, file servers or print servers.

What impact will the European push for open source have on the U.S. government?

It’s similar to the wake-up call Detroit received from Japan 30, 40 years ago. Suddenly Japan was delivering products of exceptional quality. The architecture of the automotive industry could not at that time compete with the quality and cost. We went through a very, very painful examination and retooling of our industry.

Using their buying power, can governments demand certain things from vendors?

Absolutely. Open data formats, open protocols with reference implementations that can be validated for security reasons. From a policy perspective, public entities should always be evaluating, questioning — Do we have an effective competitive environment? If not, why not?

Without open file formats, will Linux ever be adopted on desktops?

Linux is being adopted on the desktop. But I would say that in my recent conversations with people, the need for an alternative is becoming more pressing then ever, and people are willing to give up a level of comfort and functionality in exchange for a large measure of security and manageability.