Only Microsoft and Red Hat have all the pieces to build clouds, Red Hat says

At last week's Red Hat Summit in Boston, Red Hat company executives repeatedly said that only two IT vendors have all the software necessary to build an entire cloud

Red Hat has come up with an interesting sales pitch that seems to benefit rival Microsoft as much as Red Hat.

At last week's Red Hat Summit in Boston, Red Hat company executives repeatedly said that only two IT vendors have all the software necessary to build an entire cloud, and allow workloads to move from one cloud to another. And those two companies are Microsoft and Red Hat.

"We and Microsoft are the only ones that can lift up that entire stack, and bring it with all our assets to the public cloud," said Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens.

To build a cloud network, the software you need includes server virtualization, an operating system, orchestration and management tools, middleware, and application development frameworks, Red Hat executives said.

One might point out that Oracle, now that it owns Sun Microsystems, meets all or most of Red Hat's criteria for building a cloud. Open source rival Novell also offers all of the above, though Novell's middleware comes from JBoss, which is owned by Red Hat. But Red Hat may prefer to compare itself to Microsoft rather than Oracle and Novell.

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst sees VMware as the company's primary competitor, but at the same time Red Hat executives claim Microsoft is its only rival that actually produces all the software necessary to build a cloud. Red Hat, of course, believes its dedication to open source should give it a leg up over Microsoft, because Red Hat customers will be able to build clouds using any combination of software vendors.

"Most companies have legacy environments they want to adapt," says Scott Crenshaw, vice president of Red Hat's platform business unit. "That's where the open architecture becomes really important. If they've already made an investment in OpenView, or Tivoli, and Windows or .NET, or whatever, you need to be able to accommodate that. You absolutely need an open architecture, which Microsoft doesn't have, and VMware certainly doesn't have."

Microsoft, besides its mammoth market share, has at least one clear advantage over Red Hat. In addition to Windows, Hyper-V virtualization, .NET and other software tools, Microsoft has its own public cloud computing service in Windows Azure.

Red Hat just released its own "Cloud Foundations" package, which is little more than a repackaging of all its previous products. However, Red Hat is offering consulting services and a free reference architecture, 193 pages long, that details how to build a private infrastructure-as-a-service cloud. Red Hat has also built integrations with third-party cloud services like Amazon EC2, making it possible for customers to move workloads from a private cloud to a public infrastructure-as-a-service cloud.

A Red Hat cloud can be built entirely with Red Hat software, or with a combination of software from Red Hat and other vendors, Crenshaw says.

"If somebody wants to deploy VMware virtualization on a Red Hat operating system running IBM WebSphere, perfect, they can do it," he says. "What they can't do is deploy VMware virtualization on a VMware operating system with VMware middleware."

Red Hat, VMware and Microsoft are all making plays in the emerging platform-as-a-service portion (PaaS) of the cloud market. Unlike infrastructure-as-a-service offerings like Amazon EC2, which sell raw computing capacity in the form of virtual machine instances, PaaS gives developers all the tools they need to build and deploy Web applications.

"Platform-as-a-service is really kind of the next wave, and right now it's only been adopted by people doing relatively lightweight applications," Crenshaw says. "It's much more in the experimentation phase."

VMware's PaaS strategy has been boosted by its acquisition of Java vendor SpringSource, and a partnership with Salesforce.com to build a cloud computing service that will host Java applications.

Crenshaw dismisses VMware's SpringSource as "wonderful … for a very small class of applications."

But Red Hat itself is struggling to get into the PaaS market, currently dominated by Windows Azure, Google App Engine and Force.com.

"Our ability to deliver standardized platform-as-a-service offerings makes us appealing to cloud service providers," Crenshaw says, but acknowledges that as of today no vendor is offering a PaaS cloud based on Red Hat software.

"My prediction is we'll have 500 cloud providers in the next 12 to 18 months," Crenshaw says. "Not all of them will succeed, but everyone's going to try. And there's going to be a huge diversity in what they offer."

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