Red Hat: Bad economy is good for Open Source
June 25, 2009 1 Comment
From a post by Matt Asay:
Well, on Wednesday Red Hat announced fiscal first-quarter revenue of $174 million, up 11 percent from the prior year. Subscription revenue was up 14 percent year over year to $148.8 million. The company’s total deferred revenue balance is now $567.3 million, an increase of 15 percent on a year-over-year basis. Net income for the quarter was $18.5 million.
Both Oracle and Red Hat are doing well, and Oracle is obviously dealing with much bigger wads of money, but it seems clear that Red Hat’s open-source model is the big winner in the recession.
In fact, on Red Hat’s earnings call, Chief Executive Jim Whitehurst indicated: “Budgets remain tight and we don’t see an end in sight for this. In relative terms, this is pretty good for us.” He went on to call out the big differentiator for Red Hat’s business: certified ecosystem.
The key differentiator for us in Linux is our certified ecosystem. Even those that are clones of RHEL [Red Hat Enterprise Linux] lack this certified ecosystem. The second differentiator is value: great service and support at a compelling price.
We have a very disciplined business model which is based on commoditizing key parts of core infrastructure. We’ve been laser-focused on this. Open source is particularly good at that. We’d certainly like to work with other open-source companies but they have fundamentally different business models than we have.
Repeatedly asked on the earnings call about competition from Oracle, Red Hat executives took turns dismissing Oracle’s Solaris (“When customers decide to jump from Solaris they go straight to Linux, skipping OpenSolaris”) and Oracle’s Linux strategy (“We’ve yet to lose a major customer over the last year to Oracle’s Linux offering. The only one to leave Red Hat in the past couple of years is Oracle itself.”).
You can view the full RHT quarterly report here. Red Hat continues to do well and I think it’s become clear that the continuing recession can benefit certain Open Source business models. Matt makes a very good point in his post though. At some point, the UNIX-replacement business is going to slow. Currently that business is a huge chunk of Red Hat sales. When that slowing finally happens, Red Hat is going to have to look to others places for growth and competing more directly with Microsoft seems like one clear place to look for that growth. Today, less of Red Hat’s sales come at Microsoft’s expense than many people realize. It may very well take an acquisition or two for that to change. With JBoss now fully consumed, some additional acquisitions seem inevitable, but they may not come for a little while for a couple reasons. First, most companies are trying to conserve cash right now, and Red Hat is no exception there. Secondly though, Red Hat really has to be careful whose toes it steps on with its acquisitions. They learned that lesson the hard way with JBoss. That being said, at some point they may end up being too conservative in this regard. Competing with much larger companies means you have to use your small size to your advantage and take risks. I think Red Hat is up to the task, it may just take a little time to find the value and situation they’re looking for.
Disclosure: Earlier this year I held a moderate position in NYSE:RHT. I no longer hold that position.