Is Red Hat the new Oracle?

Paul Cormier,  Red Hat's executive vice president and president of products and technologies.

Everyone knows that Red Hat, the king of enterprise Linux, is banking on OpenStack as its next big opportunity. And most figured it would be aggressive in competing with rival OpenStack distributions — from Canonical, HP, Suse, and others.

What we didn’t necessarily know until the Wall Street Journal  (registration required) reported it Tuesday night is that Red Hat — which makes its money selling support and maintenance for its open-source products — would refuse to support of users of Red Hat Enterprise Linux who also run non-Red Hat versions of OpenStack.

Since Red Hat accounts for more than 60 percent of the paid enterprise Linux market, that policy could stem adoption of rival OpenStack distributions. It could also irritate customers — many of whom don’t like the specter of vendor lock-in.

In this policy — which the company confirmed to the Journal — Red Hat seems to have ripped a page out of Oracle’s playbook. The database giant, as it expanded into other software areas, decided that it would not support customers running  non-Oracle virtualization, non-Oracle Linux etc., unless the customer could prove that its issue originated in the Oracle part of the stack. That went over like a lead balloon with users. Since Oracle announced its own OpenStack distribution this week — and it also fields its own Linux distribution — the stage is set for dueling single-source OpenStack implementations going forward. Needless to say, that could ding OpenStack’s promise of no-vendor-lock-in.

The Journal also reported that Red Hat employees were told to stop working with Mirantis, an OpenStack systems integrator that late last year started offering its own OpenStack distribution. Red Hat’s president of products and technologies (pictured above) Paul Cormier told the paper that Red Hat would not bring a competitor into its accounts.

Reached late Tuesday for comment, a Red Hat spokeswoman noted that OpenStack “is not simply a layered product on top of Linux — [RHEL] is tightly integrated into and part of OpenStack. It is much more complex and intertwined than, say, Microsoft choosing to run PowerPoint on iOS.” I will update this story with additional Red Hat comment when it becomes available. Mirantis could not be reached for comment.

This news, which came out of the OpenStack Summit in Atlanta, may unsettle corporate customers wary of committing too much of their IT budget to any one vendor. But it’s hardly surprising. All of these vendors, while pledging open-source goodness of OpenStack, also want to expand their own reach in customers’ shops. OpenStack competitors have been wary of Red Hat for quite some time, expecting it to try to replicate its dominance in the enterprise Linux realm with cloud with OpenStack.

To be sure this problem is sort of theoretical now, as IDC Analyst Al Gillen pointed out. “From a practical standpoint, this is a non-issue today since there are precious few OpenStack clouds in production use,” he said via email. He agreed that this smacks of Oracle’s support policies but attributed Red Hat’s action more to the “immaturity and fast release of OpenStack more than anything else.”

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, which competes with Red Hat both in Linux and OpenStack, recently acknowledged that the battle front has moved from the single-node Linux server realm — where Red Hat won — to multi-node cloud deployments where Red Hat’s enterprise software licensing mentality could put off customers. This new policy will test how compliant big customers will be to such enterprise sales tactics in the age of cloud.

 

This story was updated with analyst comment and Oracle’s OpenStack news.

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