New energy at SUSE's annual SUSECON conference


Article from Issue 223/2019

The SUSE community pondered new challenges and the path ahead at its annual SUSECON convention in Nashville, Tennessee.

The past 12 months have been a whirlwind of change for SUSE. Former parent company Micro Focus announced last July that it was spinning off SUSE as an independent company  [1], and since then, the leading European enterprise Linux vendor has been in a flurry of reinvention. In addition to embracing a new emphasis on growth, SUSE is also finding its way through the changes in the Linux space following IBM's acquisition of Red Hat.

SUSE's life as an independent company got off to a roaring start as the annual SUSECON kicked off in Nashville, USA just days after SUSE legally split from Micro Focus. The excitement of SUSE employees, partners, and customers energized the event, as visitors contemplated the possibilities of SUSE's newfound independence.

Strategies and Trends

Future strategy was a major topic at this year's SUSECON. SUSE CEO Nils Brauckmann covered all the important facts in the opening press conference: SUSE had about $400 million in revenue in 2018, which represents approximately 15% growth over 2017. This revenue growth was accompanied by strong growth in the size of the SUSE staff. The company added more than 300 employees in the last 12 months. Overall, SUSE now has over 1750 employees located in 34 countries and spanning 75 nationalities.

The company is preparing for continued strong growth in both revenue and employees over the next several years. EQT [2], the private equity firm that bought SUSE from Micro Focus for US$2.54 Billion, is a growth investor, meaning that its focus is on enabling companies to expand to meet their value potential. SUSE plans to grow organically with new and existing products, but the company also plans to pursue an aggressive acquisition strategy. Key acquisition targets are likely to be companies with strong technology offerings in and around SUSE's Kubernetes-based cloud and container solutions.

SUSE's strategy follows the mantra of digital transformation "From the Edge to the Core to the Cloud," focusing on containers and software-defined infrastructure, with Kubernetes being the most-mentioned technology at the event.

Interestingly, SUSE itself is facing many of the same challenges as its customers. Having just been spun out of a larger organization, SUSE runs a mix of legacy and more modern IT solutions, many of which might not be ideally suited to an independent IT company, and the IT team is now pursuing its own digital transformation.

Since independence, SUSE has also gone through some restructuring in an effort to prepare for the planned strong growth phase. According to Thomas Di Giacomo, President of Engineering, Product, and Innovation, SUSE has reorganized their product development teams to no longer be organized by task, but rather to follow the agile, DevOps model of locating development, QA, documentation, and product management in product-based teams.

The Conference

SUSECON 2019 kept to the tried-and-tested mix of strategic overview, hardcore technical information, and good fun. SUSE parody videos  [3], which started several years ago on a whim, have become serious business. These music videos served as pre-keynote entertainment every morning and were featured in many other spots throughout the event. The SUSE band (almost all members are employees) rocked the Wildhorse Saloon for the event party on Wednesday night  [4], playing many of the parody songs as well as rock classics. How many employee bands can say they have played a 1000+ person venue in Music City? Probably no others, but this band deserves the honor – they are really that good.

Technology was still the centerpiece of the event, with over 150 sessions on everything from developer tools to machine learning. Interestingly, many of the talks were submitted by SUSE partners or customers, giving the conference a strong base of real-life experience. The "hallway track" seemed to focus on the new opportunities SUSE will have as an independent company. Kubernetes was surely the hottest topic – everything is being containerized! The New Buzzword award goes to "multi-cloud," a term that refers to organizations purposefully spreading their cloud workloads over various cloud solutions to avoid being too dependent on one provider. As vendor lock-in has become something enterprises are looking to avoid at all costs, more organizations are moving to a multi-cloud strategy.

Docs and Demopalooza

The closing session at SUSECON is Demopalooza, where SUSE engineers risk their reputations by showing the power of some of the latest solutions through live demos in front of the entire crowd. The nerd factor was high as the lead-in to the evening featured actual concert footage of Kraftwerk's Computerworld! The electronic music theme continued throughout the presentation, as much of the demo was based on electronic music that was being spontaneously programmed on-stage. Despite technical challenges, such as two different power outages, the demos did work. In an odd way, they may have worked too well: the live container deployment necessary to support the musical endeavors on the other end of the stage occurred so quickly that some in the audience didn't even see it happen – "wait, what?"

The Friday after SUSECON featured a handful of community events. Most notably, the SUSE Documentation Team hosted the first SUSE Doc Day, where team members and volunteers worked together to improve documentation on areas such as container technologies, OpenStack Cloud, and Open Build Service. The openSUSE community also hosted a summit on Friday and Saturday, offering a wide range of sessions, including openSUSE on ARM and setting up iSCSI.

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