IBM and Red Hat merger could impact the future of Ceph and Gluster

IBM said it's buying Red Hat for $34 billion. What impact will Big Blue's culture have on the open-source pioneer in the storage space?

Why IBM's purchase of Red Hat makes their future mostly cloudy

There are many open discussions buzzing around the industry following last week's news about IBM acquiring Red Hat for $34 billion, one of which being how this merger will impact data storage products.

IBM like all major storage players has plenty of existing software, but the bread-and-butter is hardware: Storage arrays, many filled with solid-state drives instead of conventional hard disks; along with tape drives for long-term archiving. Red Hat makes no hardware and, of course, is all about selling support and upgrades based on free open-source software.

SEE: Quick glossary: Storage (Tech Pro Research)

George Crump, founder and analyst with Storage Switzerland (its name is meant to imply objectivity, not the country), had several insights about what could work and what could go wrong.

"I think the middle ground is they're going to try to be all things to all people," Crump said. "Neither [company] is necessarily dominating the market, but neither are withering on the vine."

The merger of Dell and EMC resulted in a similar middle ground of trying to appease all customers, he said. But where Dell and EMC were already similar companies with similar customers, "The users that gravitate to the Red Hat storage are just different than your usual IBM customer," he noted--IBM is a genuine open-source community participant but still has its reputation as Big Blue the hardware company, while Red Hat is the most famous open-source pioneer.

SEE: IBM's acquisition of Red Hat takes open source's 2018 tally to nearly $55 billion (TechRepublic)

Red Hat's two main storage products are Ceph and Gluster. Ceph is a software-defined object storage software that also works with blocks and files, while Gluster is software-defined file storage. "For IBM, the one thing that Ceph would give them is a truly unified platform [but] with Gluster there's a lot of overlap to IBM's existing General Parallel File System," Crump observed. However, "I do think that the hyperconverged capabilities that Red Hat had in-house and was getting ready to upgrade--that could be very interesting."

There's also the prospect of the companies being a poor match and things going wrong. "A ramification might be that Red Hat would try to make Ceph and Gluster more enterprise appropriate. I could see them stop doing that and doing more of a DIY-type of solution, and SUSE getting more of a leg up," Crump said.

SUSE is Red Hat's rival, but it is also the next-largest Ceph code contributor, so they'd catch whatever "Blue Hat" drops, Crump suggested. "If I was a Red Hat customer, I would have absolutely no worries at all. Clearly the open-source component is going to protect itself." He added that substantial open-source software survived and thrived after Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in 2009--"If it could survive Larry Ellison, then it could survive IBM," Crump joked, as that deal was widely considered unsuccessful across the industry.

SEE: Why IBM bought Red Hat: It's all open source cloud, all the time (ZDNet)

Chris Drake, principal analyst for data center technology at Global Data, issued a statement about the wider implications for IBM and Red Hat accessing each other's customers. "Although IBM and Red Hat will be strongly positioned to address data portability and security issues, and accelerate hybrid multi-cloud adoption, there are questions about how they plan to do this and how this transaction will impact IBM's main hybrid cloud play--IBM Cloud Private--which they announced last year. IBM has expressed plans to continue building and enhancing Red Hat partnerships, including those with major cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco, Google, and Alibaba. Does this mean that IBM will promote equal access to these additional public clouds as part of its Cloud Private offering and, if so, how will it do this," Drake stated.

Drake continued: "There is also a lot of speculation as to how this transaction will position IBM as 'the world's #1 hybrid cloud provider' in an emerging $1 trillion growth market. However, hybrid cloud is a fast-changing market that is being targeted by a growing number of major players. In addition, several large infrastructure vendors, including Dell-EMC, HPE, Huawei, and Cisco have more than one hybrid cloud offering. Red Hat has been reporting strong hybrid cloud growth based on its OpenStack and OpenShift solutions. It's unlikely that IBM would want to disrupt this growth and may therefore use the acquisition to develop a more differentiated range of hybrid cloud solutions."

Update on Nov. 12, 2018: In a clear response to the IBM/Red Hat deal, the Linux Foundation today announced a new Ceph Foundation. "Under the Linux Foundation, the Ceph Foundation will be able to harness investments from a much broader group to help support the infrastructure needed to continue the success and stability of the Ceph ecosystem," executive director Jim Zemlin said. Notably, Red Hat is listed among the Ceph Foundation members but IBM isn't.

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Image: IBM