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Getting to the bottom of the Red Hat OpenStack support kerfuffle

ATLANTA — Red Hat was the talk of the OpenStack Summit this week after it made headlines concerning an alleged policy of not supporting Red Hat Enterprise Linux customers who use non-Red Hat distros of OpenStack.

Red Hat has chosen not to provide support to its commercial Linux customers if they use rival versions of OpenStack, The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

At first, this drew ire toward Red Hat from attendees at the summit. To quote one OpenStack guru at the time, “What a bunch of [expletive redacted].”

But then, Paul Cormier, president of products and Technologies for Red Hat, issued a denial of this statement from the Journal story on the official Red Hat blog.

“Users are free to deploy Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) with any OpenStack offering, and there is no requirement to use our OpenStack technologies to get a Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscription,” Cormier wrote.

Just to make sure, I sought further clarification, because the question raised by the Journal wasn’t that users are required to use Red Hat OpenStack if they want RHEL — the question was whether RHEL will be supported in environments where another OpenStack distro is in place.

Here is part of the answer I got from Tim Yeaton, senior vice president, Infrastructure Group, Red Hat:

“RHEL guests are certified to hypervisor platforms, such as KVM, not to OpenStack per se.”

Yeaton went on to say:

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.

In Red Hat’s enterprise licensing agreement, which is freely available on its website, there is no mention of OpenStack at all in the main body of the agreement, but the following statement can be found in Appendix I:

Red Hat Enterprise Linux is supported solely when used as the host operating system for Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform or when used as the guest operating system on virtual machines created and managed with this Subscription.

This matches up with what Yeaton said about RHEL being certified to the hypervisor rather than OpenStack itself. The second clause of the sentence appears to allow for other distros of OpenStack, since its scope is limited to the virtual machine, not the cloud infrastructure.

An FAQ page on the Red Hat website states that when third-party software and/or uncertified hardware/hypervisors are the potential suspect in a support case, Red Hat reserves the right to ask customers to attempt to recreate the issue with Red Hat shipped/supported software to aid in determining the problem.

This has a faint whiff of the infamous Oracle VM policy, which many attendees at OpenStack Summit brought up when they heard about the Journal story.

To be fair, Red Hat’s language is much less clear than Canonical’s in the Ubuntu support agreement, which says, in part that license must not place restrictions on other software that is distributed along with it. For example, the license must not insist that all other programs distributed on the same medium be free software.

But there doesn’t seem to be any evidence in publicly available resources that Red Hat will remove or refuse support to RHEL users running non-Red Hat distros of OpenStack. It would be interesting to see what the documents are that the WSJ reporter has cited — at this point, the onus would appear to be on the Journal to back up its story.

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