Photos Courtesy of Swapnil Bhartiya

Photos Courtesy of Swapnil Bhartiya

An interview with SUSE CEO Nils Brauckmann

SUSE, A Company on the Move

Article from ADMIN 42/2017
This month we talk with SUSE CEO Nils Brauckmann.

Recently, I sat down to talk with SUSE CEO Nils Brauckmann, the man who has steered SUSE out of troubled water and toward success. My first question was: "Are you going to make your drumming debut at SUSECON?"

"We have [a] better drummer. In fact, the entire entertainment at this SUSECON is being provided by SUSE employees. You will see Ralf Flaxa, our President of Engineering, on keyboards," said Brauckmann.

For those who don't know the context, my little birds at SUSE have told me that Brauckmann is a very talented drummer, so every time I meet him, I ask whether he will have his drumming debut at SUSECON.

So far his answer has been no, but if there is enough public demand, we may see him perform.

Brief History of SUSE

SUSE, the oldest Linux company, celebrated their 25th anniversary in Prague, Czech Republic, at SUSECON 2017. SUSE was founded in 1992 a few months after Linus Torvalds announced the Linux kernel.

Over the past 25 years, SUSE has been through some challenging times. The company was acquired by Novell in 2003. To an outside observer, Novell struggled to maintain a balance between its own proprietary technologies and SUSE's open source technologies. As a result, SUSE didn't see the kind of success it should have enjoyed as Linux increased its footprint in the server space.

SUSE got a new lease on life and gained some independence when Novell was acquired by Attachmate Group in 2011. Nils Brauckmann and his team, which included Michael Miller, President of Strategy, Alliances, and Marketing, took the helm of the SUSE brand and product portfolio. Brauckmann kept the company on the right track, but SUSE needed financial resources to reach its full potential.

Things took an interesting turn when Micro Focus, a relatively lesser known company, decided to merge in 2015 with Attachmate. Micro Focus offered much needed financial stability to SUSE. Under Micro Focus' stability and Brauckmann's "slow and steady wins the race" approach, SUSE started to grow again. Acknowledging SUSE's value within the group, Micro Focus promoted Brauckmann to the position of SUSE CEO and also offered him a seat on the board.

25 Years of SUSE

In reflection, Brauckmann said, "For 25 years, SUSE has been a pioneer and leader in providing enterprise-grade open source innovation paired with excellent service and support. That mission still guides our business strategy, our company culture, and our relationships with customers and technology partners."

He said that while SUSE is preserving and leveraging its roots, "We are a company on the move because we are growing. We are investing in people, communities, and [the] product portfolio."

SUSE: The Acquirer

SUSE is one of those few companies that innovates and creates in-house projects. It was also the first company to come up with a business model around Linux.

However, Brauckmann believes that at times it's more prudent to acquire technology than to create it internally. Micro Focus has given him the resources to do this. Brauckmann has already made two technology acquisitions within the last year: OpenATTIC, a storage solution, and HPE's Cloud Foundry and OpenStack assets.

These acquisitions proved that SUSE was back in the game, as if it ever left it in the first place. Because Micro Focus is a publicly traded company, the whole world can see the numbers. "We have passed the $300 million revenue mark in 2017, which is [a] 21 percent increase compared to the previous mark, so we are growing," said Brauckmann.

Compared with Red Hat's $2.4 billion annual revenue, SUSE is relatively smaller, but considering the ups and downs the company has been through, it's quite impressive.

Brauckmann is showing no signs of slowing down. He is looking at more such acquisitions in the future. "It [acquisition] has to advance us in areas where we want to play. We don't buy IP (intellectual properties), because we are an open source company. What we do buy is engineering talent, the knowledge, or sometimes the influence in the open source community that comes with it," said Brauckmann. "I can't say when the next one will happen, because it has to be complimentary to our technologies, but I can say that we continue to look for such opportunities."

Brauckmann would not pre-announce any possible acquisitions, so to get a better picture, I inquired about the capabilities that he thinks SUSE needs to remain competitive. Brauckmann said that it has to do with the evolution of the software-defined infrastructure stack. He even gave an example: "The whole orchestration, management, and security of the software stack across the different components, with [the] more standardized set of tools that we bring to market is, I think, an area where we will want to invest more. For our customers, it's not just the infrastructure stack itself; they also need the orchestration, the management, and the broad set of components and tools with similar technology. We have SUSE Manager; we use Salt a lot, so connecting those dots will be an area of interest."

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