An interview with SUSE CEO Nils Brauckmann

Open Collaboration

© Nils Brauckmann

© Nils Brauckmann

Article from Issue 195/2017

Looking back at 25 years of Linux and SUSE and forward toward the brave new world of containers and the cloud.

SUSE is the oldest Linux company, and it is still going strong. Founded in 1992, just one year after Linus Torvalds announced the birth of Linux, SUSE has gone through many changes in recent years. In 2003, Novell purchased SUSE in a bold effort to ride with the rising tide of Linux. In 2011, the Attachmate Group bought Novell, reorganizing SUSE as an independent business unit. In 2014, Attachmate became part of Micro Focus.

Nils Brauckmann came to SUSE through the Attachmate acquisition, and some believe he is the leader the company always needed. Last year, he was promoted as the chief executive officer of SUSE within Micro Focus. SUSE has been investing heavily in increasing its work force, mostly with more engineers. In this interview, we reflect on the last 25 years of Linux and SUSE.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Linux is 25 years old. What do you think it has achieved in these 25 years? What do you think it has contributed to our society that's beyond software and code?

Nils Brauckmann: The success of Linux is tightly coupled with the rise of open source innovation and the open source business model. Through massive collaboration and shared contribution by open source community members, faster innovation with reduced cost and time to market became a reality. This led to commoditization of technology, increased choice, and reduced dependencies for users and emerging technology companies.

In the past 25 years, Linux has helped achieve something truly noteworthy – making the majority of the world's shipping operating systems open source. Linux has also had tremendous influence on the very way business (especially the computer technology business) operates – for the better. The openness of Linux brings great benefits to enterprises, including involvement (if they choose) in product development and a chance for real influence on the technology that will run their business.

SB: SUSE was founded in 1992. How has the company evolved since the early days?

NB: When SUSE began as one of the true Linux and open source pioneers – we started even before the Linux kernel hit version 1.0 – we were focused on refining and providing the earliest distributions of Linux (this was before the common Linux distributions even existed). Our goal was affordable, open source Linux ready to be used by enterprise customers to run their business-critical workloads. Over time, SUSE, like Linux, has grown and evolved. We were the first company to bring Linux to mainframes, and to this day, SUSE is driving Linux usage on supercomputers. Along the way, we invested in a lot of open source projects. These days we're looking forward to a world of software-defined infrastructure, powered by SUSE Linux.

SB: SUSE has been through some rough patches in its journey, but it keeps coming back? What makes you so resilient?

NB: Great people and culture at SUSE are obvious, I think. Also, we have a commitment to the customer. We hire great engineers, and we do everything as open source. The core principle of being a truly open company has guided us well, and we are committed to engaging in dependable, trusted relationships with our alliance partners and customers.

SB: SUSE has been a Microsoft partner for a very long time. Today we see a "new" Microsoft that "loves" Linux. As a long-time partner of Microsoft, what's your perspective on this change of heart?

NB: This change is refreshing – for customers and for partners like SUSE. Microsoft, like any company, is constantly evaluating where value lies and where the opportunities to grow their business are. Our early work with Microsoft helped to demonstrate the power of Linux and open source. SUSE has been building solutions with Microsoft Azure since its launch in 2012 and collaborating with Microsoft since 2006, serving more than 1,000 joint customers. It is excellent to see any company, Microsoft or otherwise, adopting and becoming engaged with Linux and open source.

SB: How sustainable is SUSE under the new owner Micro Focus? Can you talk about your growth?

NB: Following the acquisition by Micro Focus, the SUSE business was given a mandate to deliver "accelerated, sustainable, and profitable revenue growth" and is provided with ongoing support and investment to support this vision. This clearly shows in SUSE's business results. Fiscal year 2016 was a successful year for SUSE, with 18.2 percent growth in revenue.

To create additional capacity for ongoing growth, we also expanded SUSE headcount across different business functions and geographies and aligned the critical supporting organization much more tightly with the SUSE business.

We also extended SUSE's presence and contribution in key open source projects and industry groups. I expect this positive trend to continue in fiscal year 2017 and beyond.

SB: SUSE is also sponsor of openSUSE, what is the relationship between the product SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) and the project openSUSE?

NB: Being a truly open source company means working closely with the community. OpenSUSE, the community project and distribution, provides us with a powerful foundation to build and support SUSE Linux Enterprise, a product of SUSE, the company. SUSE does provide financial support for openSUSE, but the direction of the project is independently decided from within the project. The community defines and drives openSUSE forward. The contributors within SUSE are simply part of that community.

SB: SUSE is still a hard-core Linux company, but we are witnessing the rise of new paradigms like Docker containers, OpenStack, and Cloud Foundry. Where is SUSE in that cloud picture?

NB: SUSE is an open source company, and we embrace new open source technologies (typically running on top of Linux) that provide new functionality and new value, such as OpenStack, Docker, and Ceph. SUSE joined the OpenStack community and started contributing in 2011, and we are a founding and platinum member of the OpenStack Foundation. SUSE was the first enterprise Linux vendor to ship a supported OpenStack product. Likewise, we are a founding member of the Open Container Initiative and began shipping Docker with SUSE Linux Enterprise 12 and SUSE OpenStack Cloud in 2015.

Last year we joined the Cloud Foundry Foundation and are actively collaborating with SAP to improve the cloud provider interface between Cloud Foundry and OpenStack.

The common thread with these actions is that we see all of these efforts as being essential to helping customers move to a software-defined infrastructure. Our goal is to be the foundation on which customers can build the next-generation platform for business systems.

SB: Microsoft and Apple are releasing products as open source. AI and machine-learning companies are open sourcing their technologies. Even car companies are open sourcing stuff. Has open source won? Or are there areas where open source has yet to make a dent.

NB: Open source, as an idea, has clearly dominated significant areas of technology. Some companies still cling exclusively to closed-source software, but this seems to be changing. It's not so much that open source has "won" as it is people have been coming to the realization that open collaboration is a more productive way to approach software innovation than closed collaboration.

SB: What are the new challenges and opportunities for SUSE as we enter the world of Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, AI, VR, and robotics?

NB: There are many new opportunities for SUSE in the context of these emerging new technology and market trends. Most of these innovations rely on Linux and other open source software as the platform, and that means SUSE is well positioned to support and capitalize on these trends. To succeed, we'll need to engage in active, strategic dialog with our customers, our partners, and our open source communities.

SB: I have heard that you are also a drummer? Are we going to see you cameo/perform in any upcoming SUSE music [parody] videos?

NB: My team has been asking, and let's say we are still in negotiations.

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