Over the last couple of years, Microsoft and Red Hat have gone from rivals to buddies. Instead of fighting, they now scratch each others' back: Red Hat hosts .Net applications, and Microsoft bolsters Linux (and thus Red Hat) on Azure.
Their partnership has deepened with Microsoft's announcement that supported Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.7 and 7.2 instances are available from the Azure Marketplace.
Almost every Red Hat customer is also a Microsoft customer of some kind, so it's natural that the two companies work together. But the partnership also plays into Microsoft's ambitions to build a hybrid cloud that's bigger than Microsoft alone.
RHEL here, there, and everywhere
On the face of it, Microsoft's new offering looks like another way to consume RHEL. A Red Hat customer can procure and operate their RHEL subscriptions natively in Azure with newly purchased subscriptions or by bringing existing licenses to Azure.
But the real mission is to provide customers with a single, consistent way to use -- and obtain support for -- both Microsoft's and Red Hat's products.
According to Mike Ferris, senior director of business architecture at Red Hat, "about 100 percent" of Red Hat enterprise customers are also Microsoft customers of some kind. "Those customers had demanded that not only we work together," said Ferris, "but that we provide services that allow enterprise use cases and support methods between the two companies."
The joint Microsoft/Red Hat support plan for RHEL is at least as comprehensive as anything either company offers alone. Ferris described how Red Hat has colocated support engineers, so if a customer calls into either Red Hat or Microsoft for aid, the call can be escalated to a center where engineers from both companies "sit side-by-side" to solve the problem. Likewise, when an Azure customer sets up a RHEL instance, the full range of Red Hat services and back-end support is also available.
Because Microsoft and Red Hat deliver these services jointly, they're not limited to Azure. For example, .Net applications running in OpenShift on RHEL, in an on-premise environment, would also be covered by these support mechanisms.
Ferris stressed how this new support model provides a greater range of choices for how to consume RHEL and where to run it. "If customers decide they want to consume on-demand or via bursting," he said, "they can go to the Azure marketplace and instantiate and consume individually as needed."
The on-demand models, he noted, are used "fairly aggressively" by development-oriented customers for provisional runs, but longer-term deployments benefit from the full-blown subscription models. The same RHEL image is used no matter where the deployment takes place, guaranteeing a consistent experience whether it's running on bare metal, in virtualization, or in private or public cloud environments.
Such an encompassing support structure also meshes nicely with Microsoft's ambitions to make Azure into a life support system for all manner of hybrid computing. Merely allowing RHEL to be deployed in a hybrid way (locally and in Azure itself) wouldn't be enough for most customers; the point is to have such deployments supported by both Red Hat and Microsoft alike.
This stands in contrast to Amazon's approach, which has no discernible attempt to create a hybrid cloud environment for enterprises and therefore has fewer opportunities to leverage joint relationships.
Microsoft's Azure Stack hybrid play isn't only about deploying Windows Server and related Microsoft products. In the big picture, it's about making Microsoft's cloud environments receptive to many other things commonly found in enterprises, from RHEL to Oracle and SAP. What matters is for Microsoft to be under, above, and with all of it.