Cloud

Red Hat: The cloud needs an OS, and OpenShift is just the thing

In a world of cloud complexity, Red Hat's Linux experience could pay dividends.

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Image: Conner Forrest/TechRepublic

Life was simpler back in 2013 when AWS launched "only" 280 new services and features. By 2016, that number had risen to nearly 1,000. As AWS chief Andy Jassy declared at AWS re:Invent 2016, "As a builder on the AWS platform, every day you wake up on average with three new capabilities you can choose to use or not."

At that pace, however, for most companies the answer is "not." Just when you're hip to VMs you're told to jump on the container bandwagon, right before you fall off for serverless. By the time you read this, serverless may already be passe.

It's simply too much, too fast, for most companies. Small wonder, then, that Red Hat spent so much of its first day of the 2017 Red Hat Summit talking up OpenShift. What's OpenShift? According to Red Hat's Daniel Riek, it's "the new Enterprise Linux." Here's an even simpler way of saying it: It's a way of making wild and crazy infrastructure staid and dull.

You know, enterprise ready.

This innovation is making my brain hurt

Ever tried AWS Shield? How about Microsoft Azure Application Insights? Google Cloud Bigtable? Or any of the hundreds of other services?

Sure, you run some in production. Others you just dabble with. But the rest? "Wait, wuh? AWS does that? Really?"

SEE: How Red Hat's strategy helps CIOs take baby steps to the cloud (TechRepublic)

Yes, really. But that's not always a good thing, as Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady put it:

Buyers are coping with a paradox unthinkable to those of us in the technology industry - too much innovation. Even as the market is delivering newer and more powerful and efficient solutions at a furious rate, it's made choice and selection a real problem. This is certainly true of the market as a whole where buyers are forced to choose between public and private, DIY vs fully managed, VM vs container vs hermetically sealed platform, and so on. It's increasingly also the case within vendors themselves; AWS, for example, is introducing new features and services so quickly that even customers that are all in on the platform are regularly unaware of new capabilities.

In short, "Choice comes at a cost," O'Grady's Redmonk compatriot James Governor said. He's spot on. The vendors that have won have tended to be those that limit choice in key ways, thereby increasing convenience. They offer opinionated products that demystify otherwise complicated technologies or industries. This is what AWS did for cloud early on, and it's how Red Hat won the Linux wars.

It's also how Red Hat expects to win the cloud wars.

Putting all that cloud into a simple box

I used to wonder how Red Hat would deal with a world gone gaga for public cloud. Sure, Red Hat made it straightforward to run Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) workloads on-prem, in public clouds, or in private clouds, but this didn't feel like a sufficient response to the momentum of AWS.

Not that Red Hat was blind to the cloudy tea leaves. In Red Hat executive vice president Paul Cormier's keynote, he acknowledged that 70% of Red Hat customers cite cloud as their #1 spending priority in 2017. Rather than a problem for Red Hat, it's an opportunity.

Over 10 years ago then Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens (now with Google Cloud) told me that Red Hat's business model depended on complexity: "Red Hat's model works because of the complexity of the technology we work with. An operating platform has a lot of moving parts, and customers are willing to pay to be insulated from that complexity." Fast forward to 2017, and the convenience that drives public cloud adoption is the same thing that keeps increasing its complexity. CIOs may want to mandate a monogamist approach to infrastructure, but their developers are playing polygamist.

Enter OpenShift, which dominated the main stage at Red Hat Summit.

Riek explains it this way: "OpenShift, which includes Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), extends its role as a common application runtime into the new world of orchestrated, multi-container applications and microservices architecture." In other words, OpenShift functions as an "operating system" of sorts, abstracting away much of the complexity inherent in diverse (public cloud, private cloud, on-prem) infrastructure. Toward this goal, Red Hat announced a partnership with AWS that allows an enterprise "to access AWS services directly from Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform," as ZDNet's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols explained.

SEE: Red Hat and Amazon integrate AWS, RHEL, and OpenShift (ZDNet)

This means enterprises can give their developers a consistent application development environment (OpenShift) even while allowing them to use diverse cloud services. All with the promise of less lock-in risk, as Riek stated: "OpenShift expands RHEL from binary runtime of an individual service up to a higher level of integration and offers a comparable experience with increasingly better capabilities than AWS alone, without the vertical integration and vendor lock-in."

It's a pretty shrewd move, one that accepts the blistering pace of cloud innovation while helping enterprises to tame it. Red Hat got to $2 billion selling a way to simplify an open source operating system. It looks set to climb to $5 billion by selling a way to simply an open cloud ecosystem.

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About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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