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Red Hat fights Microsoft for cloud profits

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Comment If making money from open source was hard, extracting it from clouds might prove to be even more difficult. Particularly when your main rival on the x64 server is none other than Microsoft.

Red Hat got its start as Linux magazine publisher that tucked a Linux CD in the back, and then evolved into the largest commercial Linux distributor in the world. The company added middleware from JBoss and created other middleware, such as its Enterprise MRG messaging, grid and realtime Linux variant, and virtualization software for desktops and servers. And now it has to position itself as an alternative to Microsoft as the platform upon which customers can build x64-based clouds.

Speaking at the Red Hat Summit in Boston last week, Scott Crenshaw, vice president and general manager of the cloud business unit at Red Hat, took some jabs at Microsoft and its own cloud strategy, as you might expect he would. While everybody and their brother was trying to figure out how to get in on the cloud action, only Red Hat and one other company - Microsoft - can deliver a comprehensive solution for clouds.

"Microsoft has taken an approach to the cloud, not surprisingly, that is very proprietary in nature as it seeks to lock in its customers," said Crenshaw. "Red Hat's roots are open in nature - all open, all open source, very different."

Crenshaw correctly pointed out that while there will be many clouds, companies looking to buy capacity on public clouds some day will want to virtualize and run their applications on private clouds first and then know that, without retooling their applications, they can be ported to public clouds.

"Enterprises that want to buy IT capacity on public clouds need to be assured that their applications work - and work reliably and don't require retooling, expensive management or other changes, costs or headaches - as they move their applications into the cloud. ISVs and developers need the confidence that they can write once and sell everywhere, whether it is inside the data center or on a public cloud."

In short, it is the same old battle, Windows and .NET versus Linux and Java, only with Hyper-V and KVM server hypervisors thrown in for cloudy measure. Of course, both stacks can support elements of the others stack, which makes such a clean delineation - and fight - nearly impossible. And what Crenshaw's simplification of the market also leaves out is the substantial amount of other work that servers humming away inside of corporations do atop other operating systems and sometimes using processors that don't come from Intel or AMD.

Crenshaw warned attendees at Red Hat Summit that clouds are at the early stages of development right now, and no one was sure that the best practices and technologies for clouds would be two, three, or four years hence. "This is not the time for customers to adopt a new architecture that locks them into a single vendor," said Crenshaw. "That vendor may not be able to deliver, in the future, what is needed."

Well, of course, that applies to any technology from any vendor at any time. And Microsoft, Red Hat, and others purporting to be a complete cloud provider, including the Cisco Systems, EMC, and VMware Acadia partnership, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, and sometime soon Oracle, are asking IT shops to pick their horses now and start building clouds.

Clouds are just virtualized servers with metered pricing and a mechanism for allowing people to share the resources. It is no more complicated than Zipcar. It's kind of fun to watch people make this more than it is and at the same time say that it is less than it really is.

In any event, Red Hat has wrapped a marketing name around its cloudy soft wares, called Cloud Foundations Edition One, that walks companies through the phases to go cloudy: virtualizing their servers, building a private cloud, and adding public clouds.

The stack includes Enterprise MRG to manage, meter and control virtual servers and storage, Red Hat Network Satellite to configures, provision and deploy virtual servers and their applications on private and public clouds using Red Hat's KVM and Hyper-V if need be, and of course the JBoss Operations Network that manages and monitors applications running atop private or public clouds on JBoss, WebSphere or .NET.

Making the case for clouds will take more than just putting a label on some software and painting it sky blue, as Red Hat has done with Foundations Edition One. It takes some changes to the underlying way software is sold. And thus as part of its Certified Cloud Provider program, Red Hat said it would price Enterprise Linux software licenses by the hour for cloud providers who are partners and would soon do the same for its JBoss tools. If a cloud provider can only charge by the hour there's no reason they should have to pay by the year.

Red Hat is also working with cloud providers to guarantee that applications certified on standalone RHEL and JBoss software will be compatible with and automatically run on certified public or private clouds. And, Red Hat is working to provide seamless support for its software no matter if it is deployed on a cloud or a physical server while providing cloud images of its software that have more rigorous security settings than the out-of-the-box RHEL and JBoss.

In April, Red Hat already announced that customers using its premium edition RHEL or RHEL Advanced Platform, the latter being the most expensive support license that Red Hat sells because it has unlimited virtualization, could move those licenses out to the Amazon EC2 public cloud. Those with basic or standard RHEL support contracts cannot move their licenses out to EC2.

Hopefully Red Hat will see that it needs to offer the same pricing for RHEL and JBoss per unit of processing capacity on physical, virtual and public clouds. An hour has sixty minutes everywhere on earth and for all the hours of the day, every day. That's easy to say, but tricky to do, since no one wants to cloud cores. And yet, when you are on a public cloud, you most certainly do. And IT shops are going to do the same thing as they meter usage and do chargeback to end users. ®

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