Red Hat bets $95 million on OpenStack dominance

Red Hat's purchase of eNovance isn't only about becoming the go-to company for OpenStack -- it's also about hoarding talent

On the face of it, Red Hat's near-$100-million purchase of eNovance is all about making Red Hat a go-to outfit for those who want to buy, build, or run an OpenStack solution. But it may also be about how Red Hat can keep some of the best and brightest OpenStack innovations close to its vest.

Founded in 2010, eNovance is best known for being a creator of OpenStack solutions for companies like Cisco, Comcast, Alcatel Lucent, Ericsson, and many others. The folks at the company are deeply proud of their work, especially the CI/CD (continuous integration and continuous delivery) development model they created for OpenStack. They also stressed eNovance is a devoted open source shop -- the company won't provide patches for a customer unless it had already been merged into the upstream for OpenStack.

If many of the fruits of their labor eventually wind up becoming part of OpenStack itself, why would Red Hat buy eNovance outright? Answer: As a defensive move against other OpenStack vendors doing the same.

Consider the players involved. Aside from Red Hat, three of the four other companies that contribute the majority of the code to OpenStack are a who's who of big-name, blue-chip tech: HP, Rackspace, and IBM. The fourth, Mirantis, isn't as big overall but has made a name for itself as a major OpenStack solutions provider. Red Hat keeping eNovance out of even Mirantis's reach is a smart tactical move. (It also helps that Red Hat and eNovance have collaborated closely before.)

If you want to be known as the OpenStack solutions provider, it helps to have not just a major OpenStack distribution (as Red Hat does), but also a team with a proven track record for building cloud solutions for name customers.

Red Hat's defensive action makes sense given the overall politics of projects like OpenStack. When Bryan Cantrill, CTO of Joyent, talked to InfoWorld recently about the problems of building cloud infrastructure with a product like OpenStack, he noted that members of any major consortium collaborating on a technical initiative -- such as OpenStack itself -- inevitably try to keep a little something for themselves.

"It's very hard to have every single company agree on something," he said. "Everyone's going to have their own agenda. And when they make an advance on something, they are overwhelmingly incentivized not to push that advance back [to the consortium]. There's absolutely every incentive for those that acquire the knowledge of how to deploy [OpenStack] properly to not disseminate that knowledge thoroughly and [to] use it as a way to advance themselves."

Much of the talk around OpenStack has involved its openness as an architecture and how any two implementations of OpenStack are likely to have a high degree of interchangeability. But that doesn't mean OpenStack vendors are laying down their arms. It simply means the competition between them has shifted to a realm not always visible to the customer.

[Am earlier version of this piece incorrectly identified Bryan Cantrill as CEO of Joyent, not CTO.]

This story, "Red Hat bets $95 million on OpenStack dominance," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.