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A customer success story, with a twist

One packed session at last week’s Red Hat Summit in Boston was a case study on an internally built integration of Ansible with Red Hat CloudForms, to orchestrate a hybrid cloud environment with VMware and AWS. Ansible is an especially useful tool to deploy Puppet agents into the environment, noted Phil Avery, senior Unix engineer at BJ’s Wholesale Club.

“I was pretty chuffed about this,” he said.

And then on the first day of the conference he heard, for the first time, about Red Hat’s brand-new CloudForms 4.5 and its native Ansible integration. So he redid his presentation to play down the novelty of his own Ansible work.

Avery hadn’t had an inside track on Red Hat’s CloudForms development, but Red Hat worked with him for “a long time” including a visit from top management, confirmed copresenter Matt St. Onge, senior solutions architect at Red Hat. “I’d like to think that Phil is an upstream contributor,” he quipped during the session.

Welcome to business models at the intersection of open source and “-as-a-service” — where vendors have less insight into what customers are doing, and vice-versa.

“Vendors want to build things for hundreds and thousands of customers, so it is a fine balance of building something that is adopted and then shows traction,” said Holger Mueller, principal analyst and vice president at Constellation Research, Inc. in Cupertino, CA.

Business models that attempt to tap the upswell of interest in open source and -as-a-service offerings, however, don’t have as much customer visibility — SaaS is particularly outdated, Mueller said. Hence, the existence of customer advisory boards and special interest groups.

Clever customers that conjure workarounds to solve a pressing need aren’t rare, of course — but especially in the world of open source and as-a-service, birds of a feather tend to flock together.

“This could have been my demo” of Ansible integration for hybrid cloud orchestration, crowed one engineer at a global bank headquartered in the Netherlands, after the session. “Why haven’t I seen this?” said another, a technical architect at a U.S.-based financial services company.

For his part, Avery seems unfazed by how things turned out. He’s using CloudForms 4.2 but will look at version 4.5 and likely upgrade — after all, Ansible integration is native now. Still, as he continues to figure out what improvements help him do his job, communication lines need to improve: “We need to get back on that wavelength,” he said.