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Supporting OpenStack Competitors: If Microsoft is doing it, Red Hat must too.

Boris Renski - January 01, 1970

The recent slew of articles from the Wall Street Journal and ReadWriteWeb stating that Red Hat won’t support customers who choose rival OpenStack distribution caused a wave of controversy. Since Mirantis was in the center of many of these discussions, I wanted to shed my perspective on the matter.

First, one needs to understand that Red Hat OS support is a function of the underlying virtualization platform. OpenStack is not a virtualization platform. It is an orchestration layer for a variety of virtualization technologies. You can use OpenStack to orchestrate VMware, Hyper-V, Xen and various flavors of KVM hypervisors.

Red Hat currently does support Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), running on VMware vCenter, Hyper-V or Red Hat’s flavor of the KVM hypervisor. Red Hat does not support customers on RHEL who are running on KVM that ships with any competing Linux distribution such as those shipped by Oracle, Canonical, HP or SUSE. 

If you look at the recent OpenStack user survey, 90% of OpenStack deployments today are not running on RHEL, but rather use other flavors of Linux and KVM, such as Ubuntu or CentOS. That means that 90% of companies that have adopted OpenStack thus far will not be able to run supported instances of RHEL in their cloud.

It also means that seemingly unequivocal statement made by Paul Cormier in his blog is prone to various interpretations:  “Users are free to deploy Red Hat Enterprise Linux with any OpenStack offering, and there is no requirement to use our OpenStack technologies to get a Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscription.”

All of the above has triggered a discussion on the OpenStack foundation mailing list with mild overtones suggesting that Red Hat may be engaging in anticompetitive behavior to corner the OpenStack market.

I cannot speak for Red Hat, but sincerely want to believe that is not true. We are currently in active talks with Red Hat to collaborate on supporting RHEL for customers who choose the Mirantis OpenStack distribution. While Red Hat does not support customers who choose rival OpenStack distributions today, they did not explicitly shut the door on anyone (yet).

I want to believe that the current situation is an unfortunate byproduct of Red Hat’s internal business process. Red Hat is an open source poster child of the client-server computing era. Today we move to the cloud era. In this new era it is important to provide compatibility and support for your operating system, running on a variety of virtualization technologies, and across different private and public clouds.

Red Hat explains that they only certify RHEL to run on a limited set of virtualization technologies, because compatibility testing is a significant effort for them. Decisions on what to support are ROI-driven, they say… While these explanations have technology merit, ultimately they don’t address the issue.

Let’s face it, with 64% share in the enterprise Linux market, Red Hat is in a position to dramatically stifle healthy competition in open source ecosystems tied to Linux. OpenStack is one of the most prominent examples of such an ecosystem. When you come to dominate a particular market, you automatically inherit certain obligations, whether you like it not. Yes, there may be overhead for Red Hat to certify RHEL on many virtualization platforms. But, in my opinion, it is Red Hat’s obligation to invest in this in order to provide customers with choice and access to innovations from vendors besides just Red Hat.

We’ve seen the exact same situation happen before with Microsoft. With Windows Server accounting for 45.8% of overall server market share (vs. 20% for all of Linux) today, Microsoft could be in an excellent position to leverage that to unfairly gain dominance. And exactly because of this dominant position in the server market, Microsoft was forced to launch an SVVP program for certifying third party virtualization technologies against Windows Server. In the case of Microsoft, we have an even playing field and a simple structured process. In the case of Red Hat, it is big gray area, prone to politics and laden with controversy.

Red Hat has contributed greatly to open source and to the OpenStack project in particular. The company is also doing a respectable job of transforming itself into a player with its eye on the future, helping build the new cloud universe on the shoulders of Linux. We welcome the competition and love to have Red Hat around. But, come on, if a monster behemoth with a track record of anti-competitive behavior makes it straightforward for anyone to certify virtualization technologies against their server, Red Hat, as a poster child for open source and no-lock-in, should follow suit.

DISCLAIMER: The above represents my personal stance on the matter and does not reflect the official position of the OpenStack Foundation. 

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