UPDATED 22:27 EDT / OCTOBER 15 2021


Red Hat’s Joe Fitzgerald pursues a steadfast vision for Ansible Automation

To fully appreciate the journey that Joe Fitzgerald, vice president and general manager of the Management Business Unit at Red Hat Inc., has taken in the technology world, it’s worth looking at the shortest stay in his lengthy career.

After co-founding Novadigm Inc. in the 1990s, Fitzgerald became the chief technology officer, director of product development and a distinguished research fellow at Hewlett Packard Co. when his startup was acquired by the tech giant in 2004.

HP was not in a good place in 2004. News headlines such as “Losing The HP Way,” and “When Bad Things Happen to Good Projects” captured the business problems surrounding HP at the time. By February 2005, HP’s chief executive — Carly Fiorina — would be forced to resign after the company’s share price had dropped over 50% during the previous five years.

Fitzgerald himself would depart HP a few months later, barely a year after coming on board, and he co-founded another company — ManageIQ Inc. — which would ultimately be sold to Red Hat in 2012.

Both ManageIQ and Novadigm addressed specific needs for IT organizations in virtualization solutions and automated configuration management. Despite HP’s struggles in the mid-2000s, the tech giant retained a significant customer base and Fitzgerald’s short stint between his two startups offered a glimpse into the IT challenges facing some of the largest enterprises in the world. It would set the stage for his future work at Red Hat to provide what Ansible and other key automation tools from Red Hat strive to deliver — frictionless IT.

“Friction exists in many aspects of a product or a service, and one of the biggest elements of friction is the complexity of the solution,” said Fitzgerald in an exclusive interview with SiliconANGLE. “IT has evolved to harbor many very specialized, complex tools that require significant training and a long time to master, and the result is that many tools can only be used by very few people. Our automation teams and the Ansible automation community at large are especially focused on reducing complexity and breaking down the silos.”

Self-service option

This vision of frictionless IT has guided much of Ansible’s development path. During the recently concluded AnsibleFest, Red Hat announced the release of Ansible Automation Platform 2, a major update designed to help enterprises integrate automation for IT in distributed organizations.

The prospect of spreading IT automation through large organizations is dim if the platform relies on specialized skills or is hard to consume. With Ansible 2, IT administrators can offer a self-service option with frameworks for creating and executing automation playbooks.

“We are doubling down on reducing the friction,” Fitzgerald said. “We want to help any user, regardless of their skills, to adopt automation. We are seeing Ansible being used in a growing number of use cases, which is very exciting, and to accelerate that expansion we publish an ever-growing set of curated and certified automation content that appeals to NetOps, SecOps, Windows ITOps and many others.”

Strategic thinking for automation

Fitzgerald’s statement highlights a key element in frictionless IT: The end goal is not the automated technology solution, but enlisting the interest of people to use it.

Red Hat’s purchase of Ansible in 2015 underscored this philosophy. The acquisition helped the company boost its DevOps portfolio and appealed to the rising corps of developers who were interested in writing and deploying code quickly.

Five years later, Ansible’s value shifted into a new gear when a global pandemic shut down much of the world. The city of Denver, Colorado, relied on Ansible to create an emergency operations center over the course of a weekend.

Officials in the state of Michigan leveraged OpenShift and Ansible to automate workflows and speed delivery of critical constituent services. People had a need, and in what had suddenly become a COVID-dominated world, technology delivered.

“In 2020, many IT organizations around the world came to realize that automation was a necessity,” Fitzgerald told SiliconANGLE. “In 2021, that awareness is evolving into strategic thinking — what cultural changes are necessary, what tools should be considered, what workflows can be developed. In other words, the focus shifted from technology as a tactic to face a scalability and mobility challenge to people, processes and technology as key elements to leverage automation strategically across the company and over the long term.”

Opportunity for NetOps and security

The adoption of automation across the landscape of enterprise IT is also transforming two key areas: networking and security.

Networking represents a fertile area for Red Hat. A survey released last year by Enterprise Management Associates found that 77% of respondents considered networking automation to be a high priority, yet only 20% had evaluated or procured solutions.

Ansible’s ability to provide automation for NetOps activities, such as configuration management, application deployment and software provisioning, puts it in a position to take advantage of this market opportunity.

“Ansible Automation Platform can automate IT domains such as networking, security, container management, in datacenters, in cloud environments, and all the way to the edge,” Fitzgerald noted. “Networking and security are now becoming fertile ground for automation projects. Experts in those fields have started to build a confidence that didn’t exist years ago, and we expect this trend to grow over time.”

Red Hat’s expectations around the need for security automation may be realized sooner rather than later. Container security in particular is a growing area of concern among enterprises and governments alike.

The problem is that security tools have not always kept pace with the explosion of containerized applications. There remain unpatched viruses in the wild that have plagued container security, a situation that has led to privileged escalation attacks on Kubernetes and exploits that specifically target a runtime standard.

Red Hat is addressing security in several ways. The company has integrated technology from its StackRox acquisition into Advanced Cluster Security for Kubernetes in OpenShift and partnered with CyberArk Software Inc. to rotate credentials during infrastructure automation work using Ansible.

In addition, Red Hat’s SaaS offering – Insights – offers actionable intelligence within Red Hat Enterprise Linux environments to guard against attacks.

“To make Red Hat Insights even more effective, we have integrated it with Ansible Automation Platform so that any recommended remediation plan can be executed automatically,” Fitzgerald said. “The more containerized applications we’ll see deployed across hybrid IT environments and multiclouds, the more we’ll see the need for preventive cyberdefenses and automation. Red Hat Insights will have an ever-more important role to play in this escalation.”

Over the years, Fitzgerald has filed a number of patents, which chart the course of his experience with earlier startups and Red Hat. These include technologies such as enforcement of compliance policies in managed virtual systems and methods for storing and transmitting configuration data.

The Red Hat executive continues to keep close tabs on the adoption of automation as a critical piece of the enterprise IT puzzle because, ultimately, it’s all about ease of use and the people who are willing to embrace platforms such as Ansible.

“We’ve seen a growing desire to collaborate and share automation across enterprises,” Fitzgerald said. “We are continually adding more content to our certified Ansible Content Collections so that Ansible Automation Platform can be easier to use and automation easier to trust. Ansible’s mission has always been to simplify and democratize automation.”

Photo: Joe Fitzgerald

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