Interview with Nils Brauckmann, CEO, SUSE

Note: This interview was conducted before Nils Brauckmann retired from his CEO position, but we still want to share it.

At the SUSECON 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee, I got the possibility to talk with the former CEO of SUSE Nils Brauckman about open source, cloud tech- nology, possibilities and opportunities in the IT world.

The IT world is changing rapidly and offers in- credible opportunities. We are undergoing a digital transformation, but it can be challenging to be a pioneer or even keep up with the changes. SUSE is also in the midst of changes– are these easier after its independence? And is the company moving in a new direction?

At SUSE, we listen closely to our customers to understand their needs. Together with our partners, our primary mission is to enable them to succeed in today’s rapidly changing business environment. Our new status as an independent business allows us to focus on our customers and partners’ goals more than ever, while being the open, open source company that provides freedom of choice.
By putting our customers’ needs front and centre, we help them to succeed in their digital transformation journeys, without being locked in a vendor stack. Since launching SUSE as an in- dependent business in March, we have actually faced the same challenges as our customers. For example, to ensure agility and keep pace with both market changes and customer requirements, we had to create our own IT stack that supports our employees across different functions. This stack needs to be able to unlock the value of our data and provide insight into how our customers use SUSE’s services.
Industry leaders around the world are being driven by the same business challenges and all require the necessary tools to adapt, scale and achieve agility. Many of us have to deal with competitors – in some cases, disruptive competitors – and we want to stay one step ahead of them and the application stack. Engaging effectively with the outside world by servicing, sup- porting and learning from customers and partners is extremely important if an organization is to maintain a competitive edge. As the largest independent truly open, open source company, we are reinforcing our efforts to make our cus- tomers’ journeys into digitization a success.

Digitization and open source bring great opportunities. How does SUSE live and breathe open source and what digitization strategies is it pursuing?

Our open, open source culture is one of the key pillars of our business. Open source is the main driver of digitization and innovation.
At SUSE, our end goal is really about ensuring our customers can be innovative, agile and competitive through our industry-hardened enterprise open source solutions. We get there by providing our customers with best of breed enterprise-ready solutions that enable them to create, deploy and manage workloads anywhere – whether that be on-premises or in hybrid and multi-cloud environments.
Our recent independence and position as a long-term trusted advisor in the open source industry allows us to deliver expertise effectively. Moreover, working alongside innovative open source communities, as well as our partners and broader ecosystem enables us to take innovation and provide our customers with valuable consumer technology.

SUSE is still mainly seen as a Linux distributor rather than a cloud technology provider. But the latter is the direction the new offerings are taking. With what strategy do you want to show the world that you stand for cloud? Where do you see yourself regarding cloud, machine learning, AI, IoT, … ?

Technology doesn’t emerge on its own but in response to the world around it. Many of our customers are exploring hybrid computing, cloud and multi-cloud computing and Software-as-a- Service (SaaS). These options provide multiple benefits including scalability, speed to market and economic flexibility.
Companies need the ability to move to new computing models and paradigms while simultaneously fulfilling customization requirements for technology that they may potentially already have on-premises. A lift and shift approach to the cloud will not suffice here. Crucially, organizations need to consider integration between the technologies in place and new systems. For many enterprises the concept of hybrid is not just a buzzword, it’s a reality. To embrace emerging technologies, you still have to get the most out of on-premises assets – you can’t have 100 per cent one or the other.
When we consider current deep and machine learning (ML) technologies – or more generally, the future of artificial intelligence (AI) – we are already seeing the business benefits. AI is used for a variety of purposes including facilitating automation, simulation in healthcare research and helping businesses understand customers. Current AI and ML capabilities are now possible at a larger scale than ever before, thanks to re- cent innovation in high performance computing (HPC), specific software and hardware, hybrid and multi-cloud application and data management. I would argue that all new technologies
– AI, HPC and IoT to name a few – are based on open source innovation.

Many of SUSE’s customers and partners are still more classically positioned, so how do you intend to change mind-sets around transitioning to the cloud? Are you looking for new part- ners, or do you want to enable your existing partners and customers?

From listening and talking to our customers and partners, we know that all business leaders are driven by the same need to adapt and scale and be agile. Hybrid cloud and multi-cloud go hand in hand. Businesses want to achieve the degree of flexibility that only best of breed can give them. Therefore, they may decide to work with several SaaS providers, and also several cloud providers. Multi-cloud strategies need to be managed, orchestrated, and fitted within an IT landscape that has been growing for 20-30 years.
At SUSE we see ourselves in the role of building bridges and opening new possibilities while catering to the existing infrastructure and ensuring everything works together seamlessly. Our Kubernetes-based container solution is a good example of this. Most businesses use a combi- nation of cloud and on-premises data centres. IT requires the ability to easily and securely run and move workloads, as well as share data between various locations. Kubernetes is ideal for this hybrid environment as its flexibility means it can be implemented across cloud and on-premises, or even run as a service.
Our customers need partners at their side that are willing to really understand their requirements. Ultimately, partners need to be deeply engaged, dependable and act as trusted advisors. They must understand the rapidly trans- forming business space and the current demand for mixed IT environments. SUSE works extremely closely with existing partners. But we are also always searching for new partners who are driven by the same
motivation – working together to help our customers successfully transform their business is our core goal.

Why should customers choose SUSE products? What is the value for customers to move to the cloud with SUSE?

Open source fuels digital transformation. SUSE is committed to working within the spirit of open source technology. By collaborating with our partners and wider ecosystem to bring valuable technology to our customers, we are also making our efforts available to open source communities.
Our open, open source approach ensures that our customers are not locked into a vendor stack, but have the freedom of choice to select the best solution for their environments. SUSE connects the familiar stability and functionality of enterprise systems with an expanded, innovative, industry-hardened open source system. This makes it possible for companies to implement agile working methods using modern IT infrastructure and open source software. In a nutshell, SUSE enables customers to create, orchestrate, deploy and manage workloads anywhere – on-premises and in hybrid or multi- cloud environments.

At SUSECON, you can feel a lot of SUSE’s own spirit. How does your company understand culture? What is important to you?

SUSE’s culture is an integral part of our business. Being the open, open source company drives the way we work to achieve goals and solve problems together with our partners, customers, community and employees.
It was incredibly exciting to see how the SUSE teams across the globe gathered together on our independence day. Our chameleon and the colour green was everywhere, SUSE bands played, and there were mega cakes – the Chinese team had the largest cake I’ve ever seen! It is astonishing to see this level of pride, passion and belief in the future of SUSE. I am very proud that we are now at around 1,750 employees from 75 different nationalities in over 34 different countries. We are all motivated by the same mantra of true openness – and this is essential to SUSE.


The interview was conducted by Friederike Zelke.