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Gerald Pfeifer SUSE CTO: exclusive interview for AT

Today I am lucky enough to share with you one of the interviews that I have been waiting for the longest. The wait has been worthwhile, and it has finally arrived. This is an interview with Dr. Gerald Pfeifer, CTO EMEA at SUSE and openSUSE Chair of the Board. In it you will know some interesting things about this company, about Gerald, and also about the openSUSE project.

So, I invite you to continue reading the whole interview. I hope you like it as much as I did…

Architecnología: I always ask the same initial question: Who is Gerald Pfeifer? (Please describe yourself)

Gerald Pfeifer: I have been engaging in free software and open source before the latter term was coined, still hack a bit here and there, have an academic research and teaching background, am a divemaster, practice yoga, enjoy bringing people, technology, and business together, and love to learn and to share all of the above. Having joined SUSE seventeen years ago after leadership roles in engineering and products, I currently serve as CTO in EMEA and support openSUSE as chair of its board – which means I get to do pretty much all of the above (short of diving and yoga maybe) at work.

AT: When and how did you start being passionate about technology?

G.P.: Books have been my passion from when I learnt to read. Around eighth grade I got my first computer, and after playing games for a bit I taught myself to program: first Basic, then Pascal, C, and C++. Still in high-school, I wrote an application to run my father’s print shop – first under DOS, then Windows 2.x/3.x and 95.

AT: Do you have a reference? Someone who has inspired you?

G.P.: There’s not one “guru”, rather numerous teachers, friends, colleagues, and others who have inspired, motivated, and taught me. Collette, Ralf, and Tara are three names that come to mind in very different ways – not all of them in IT or open source. And there’s inspiration all around us all the time – if we keep our minds and senses open.

AT: What has been the most complex challenge you have faced in your career as a developer? And the project you have most enjoyed participating in?

G.P.: Creating the application I wrote in high school was special in that I had to do everything on my own, without any training, just some books and magazines, trial and error, even a bit of reverse engineering. In the course of that, I created relational databases, a form generator and programming language, and a phonetic search algorithm – without knowing any of those terms or concepts back then. In terms of free software, the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC), is one I have spent most time on and where I have been enjoying the community and collaboration. And then there’s openSUSE, which is by the far the broadest and most diverse of all open source projects I’ve participated in – really one rich community and a number of strong communities within.

openSUSE logo

AT: How is the symbiosis (in terms of development) between openSUSE and SUSE… Is it bidirectional or only in one direction?

G.P.: This relationship definitely is bi-directional, or even multi-directional, I’d say. It involves many individuals, communities, companies. As just one example, openSUSE’s Tumbleweed rolling release is the upstream of SUSE’s Enterprise Linux distributions, whereas the latter are upstream of openSUSE’s Leap distribution. There are lots of tools like the Open Build Service and openQA the two are sharing, partners like AMD, Arm, or IBM who engage in both, colleagues who use one or the other (or both). It’s really a web of connections between and around openSUSE and SUSE.

AT: I follow closely the EPI and GAIA-X project, for the development of a processor and the European cloud, and for the technological non-dependence of the Old Continent (see fights between USA vs China). Fortunately, we have a slightly better situation from the software side, with big ones like SUSE ;), SAP, etc. How do you see this problem?

G.P.: Hardware is particularly tricky since tools and foundries quickly run into hundreds of millions and billions. Arm has been opening up that domain with its innovative business model, and RISC-V definitely is one to keep an eye on. Still, even with a design in hand there’s the question how to produce actual chips. And there Europe appears to be behind.
On the software side Europe features some strong players, like SAP or SUSE and a growing startup culture, too. In the end, companies like SUSE are global, and I know colleagues on all continents north of Antarctica.

AT: SUSE is a distro that is present in the HPC sector. Are you working to port the distro to RISC-V architectures? I think that openSUSE is also working on a port for RISC-V. Really?

G.P.: Yes, there is some work on a port for RISC-V. With openSUSE (and SUSE Linux Enterprise) already running on a number of different architectures and form factors (from Raspberry Pis and the like up to the largest machines imaginable) and with all the tools I mentioned earlier, adding new architectures is quite feasible. Still effort, but not like starting from scratch.

AT: In fact the supercomputer that will receive these technologies will be the Marenostrum of the BSC in Spain. And SUSE is the operating system of that machine. Does SUSE work together with them in any way for the future hardware?

G.P.: Of course, input from such a skillful user pushing the edge is very important to us. Have you, by the way, seen  released few weeks ago?

AT: There are two things that concern me especially in the world of computing: energy efficiency (especially in HPC) and security. Do you think that enough resources are allocated to software development to improve these two aspects (SUSE case)?

G.P.: Security has many aspects, such as the architecture of a system and its components, validating the actual implementation, looking at default configurations and best practices, documentation and tools, formal certifications like FIPS and Common Criteria, and of course reactive security dealing with newly found vulnerabilities/CVEs in hardware or software. That’s a lot, and luckily there’s a good number of colleagues who constantly work on all those aspects – for SUSE products and supporting openSUSE, too.

As for energy efficiency, and efficiency overall, like security that is not a one-time check mark item. Rather it is an ongoing process and effort that we are constantly engaging in, working upstream, on our own offerings, and with customers and partners. There are many approaches where data-centers are used to heat buildings, heat glass houses and fields for growing vegetables and fruit or where the energy to run the data center comes from solar panels (even in the highly regulated financial sector). The overall goal will have to be a combination of all: energy saving, clever cooling mechanisms, and making the most of the heat created so that it does not become waste.

AT: Many technologies have emerged, such as cloud, virtual/augmented/mixed reality, virtualization and containers, AI,… What do you think will be the next challenge for SUSE? Do you have your sights set on any new technology that will especially catch your attention in the near future?

G.P.: Quantum computing may become more relevant at one point and blockchain is quite hyped (overhyped as I would argue). But there are some highly valuable projects. For example, together with our partner Tymlez, we have implemented a blockchain project that reduces the time to treat stroke patients – where every minute counts for recovery and to avoid severe damage. Looking into the near future I see combining and integrating pieces we have on the table already: Increasingly embedding AI technologies throughout the portfolio towards increasingly autonomous and intelligent systems at all levels; architecting and deploying applications across a wide gamut from on site to the ever more agile edge to clouds; and managing all that in terms of resilience, security, and (financial, energy, staffing,…) efficiency.

SuSE y Rancher logos

AT: SUSE was bought by Novell, then Attachmate, Micro Focus, and now the Swede EQT. Does that kind of move affect development in any way or are they positive?

G.P.: Heraclitus argued that change is the only constant in life. Which is true in one way, and not really in others, since fundamental principles (like open source or passion for customers) are persistent. We at SUSE have been continuously growing our momentum. Today independent, with growth investor EQT at our side, we are unleashing the chameleon, so to speak. Take for example our recent acquisition of Rancher Labs, a leader in enterprise Kubernetes management. For customers, partners and communities SUSE and Rancher together means that they have the power to innovate everywhere – from the data center, to the cloud, to the edge.

AT: What do you think SUSE has that the competition doesn’t (keys)?

G.P.: As a global leader in true open source innovation, collaborating with partners, communities and customers we deliver and support robust enterprise open source software solutions. Our biggest difference is that of customer choice: We appreciate that not every customer is going to want or need every single product or technology to come to SUSE – and that’s okay. We ensure our open solutions can be adopted and integrated within their existing IT ecosystems, rather than enforce pre-defined stacks like others do.
In a nutshell, our customers can innovate with speed and agility, benefit from a truly independent approach, and rely on our enterprise strength and experience.

AT: And finally, Which operating system was used within Software und System-Entwicklung in 1992? Another Linux distro?

G.P.: The original distribution S.u.S.E. as it was spelt back then, provided was based on Slackware. And like me today, using openSUSE, Firefox, LibreOffice,… on my notebook, our founders were big believers in using what we provide to others.

Thank you SUSE! Thank you Gerald! I have been waiting a long time for this interview, among other things because my first contact with the Linux world was with a SUSE Linux 9.1 Live CD, and then I bought SUSE Linux Professional 9.2 of which I still have the original box…


Apasionado de la computación y la tecnología en general. Siempre intentando desaprender para apreHender.

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