Is Red Hat locking customers into its version of OpenStack?

Red Hat will not support its Linux installations on any version of OpenStack except its own, sparking worries of vendor lock-in

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Red Hat will not provide support for customers of its RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) if they deploy RHEL on any version of OpenStack other than its own.

OpenStack, the open source software for creating cloud computing environments akin to Amazon's, has become a major component of Red Hat's future business plans. Rather than relying solely on future revs of RHEL to drive revenue, Red Hat now is looking to sell OpenStack as part of the general RHEL family.

Gigaom asked Red Hat about the issue and was told by a Red Hat spokeswoman that "[OpenStack] is not simply a layered product on top of Linux," but rather RHEL is "tightly integrated into and part of OpenStack. It is much more complex and intertwined than, say, Microsoft choosing to run PowerPoint on iOS."

To that end, Red Hat may well be tightening its support rules about RHEL and OpenStack simply to reduce the number of variables that might be present in any given Red Hat OpenStack install.

In a blog post, Paul Cormier, president of products and technologies at Red Hat, stressed that "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."

On the other hand, he also emphasized that "Red Hat Enterprise Linux and our OpenStack offerings are developed, built, integrated, and supported together to create Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform. This requires tight feature and fix alignment between the kernel, the hypervisor, and OpenStack services. We have run into this in actual customer support situations many times."

The implication is that support for Red Hat's specific brand of OpenStack requires the use of the stack as Red Hat delivers it.

Tim Yeaton, senior vice president of the infrastructure group at Red Hat, added further details: "RHEL guests are certified to hypervisor platforms, such as KVM, not to OpenStack per se. OpenStack is the control layer that manages multiple hypervisors, and KVM is the default.... In the case of RHEL OSP, we in turn support other guest OSes on our embedded KVM, based on the providers' ability to provide mission critical support in partnership with us.... Since we are in the business of building mission-critical cloud infrastructure, delivering on stringent SLAs for enterprise customers based on RHEL, KVM, and OpenStack, we must take responsibility for enterprise-readiness and supportability of our RHEL guests on other vendors' hypervisors within their OpenStack platforms, and the underlying Linux that is being used within them."

But Adrian Ionel, CEO of Mirantis, which delivers its own OpenStack installations,doesn't believe this issue is technical.

"We don't think the technical differences [among OpenStack distributions] are all that big," he said. "If you combine RHEL and OpenStack, you might get some higher degree of optimization, but we don't believe that's in the best interest of the industry or the customers."

Ionel also doesn't believe that Red Hat's own rules about what will and won't be supported are, or have been, immutable.

"We've built OpenStack clouds for people like PayPal on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and they work just fine," he said. "And Red Hat did provide support to those customers because those customers are important to them.

"If the customer is big enough, and they ask Red Hat [to bend that rule], they will not invalidate support for someone like eBay or The Gap -- at least, not until [Red Hat] gains enough market share to do that, possibly."

The Journal article hints at how the tightening of Red Hat's OpenStack support policy may well have come about in the wake of strained relations between Red Hat and Mirantis. Mirantis received investment funds from Red Hat, but after the latter began selling its own OpenStack distribution, Mirantis was branded a competitor, and the partnership between the companies dissolved. The two have since butted heads directly and indirectly. For example, Mirantis offered its own OpenStack vendor certification program rather than Red Hat's, which is similar albeit differently structured.

The likeliest motive for Red Hat is to make sure it doesn't leave money on the table for either RHEL or OpenStack. But there's little so far to suggest that Red Hat's attempts to make OpenStack into a moneymaker on the scale of RHEL have borne the same grade of fruit. And Mirantis isn't the only competition out there: Players on the scale of IBM and HP now also are making OpenStack part of their respective service portfolios.

Karl Keirstead, a research analyst at Deutsche Bank compiling equity research into both Red Hat and OpenStack, found there was "growing interest in OpenStack" but that "adoption is still not at an inflection point among mainstream customers." Also, upon talking to early OpenStack adopters at the OpenStack Summit, Keirstead noted how "monetization of OpenStack is currently modest, and many of the early adopters we spoke with are currently not paying any vendor for OpenStack support."

This story, "Is Red Hat locking customers into its version of OpenStack?," 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.

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