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Deciphering Red Hat's cloud computing strategy

Red Hat's cloud strategy seems aimed at providing consistent open source cloud service for data centers and public clouds using tools like Deltacloud and Linux -- an approach our expert thoroughly examines.

Of the three primary Linux vendors (Canonical, Novell, and Red Hat), Canonical and Red Hat have made the biggest splashes in the cloud computing market. Canonical's focus appears to be simple partnerships and bundling software, rather than the comprehensive enterprise products offered by Red Hat. At its 2010 Summit, Red Hat provided a complete and separate track of cloud sessions that introduced its family of cloud products and services, along with its cloud strategy. While Red Hat provides an abundance of information about its cloud offerings, it's not always clear how they fit together.

The overarching strategy behind Red Hat's cloud offerings is to provide a consistent environment that allows you to run your workloads in your enterprise data center (fully or partially virtualized, with or without a private cloud) or in a public cloud. This consistency extends all the way through licensing.

For example, if you exhaust capacity in your data center, Red Hat software, specifically MRG Grid, can automatically schedule workloads on virtual machines in the Amazon public cloud. Of course, you get to specify which workloads that you are willing to allow to be run outside your data center. MRG Grid is designed to schedule various types of computing resources, including virtual machines across private and public clouds.

Building a cloud stack with Red Hat
Red Hat's cloud offerings do not lock you into its cloud stack. Instead, they allow you to build a cloud stack that can be used alone or with components from third-party vendors. This approach differs significantly from VMware's approach. When VMware publishes application programming interfaces (APIs), it often keeps the best features for itself. An entire VMware stack offers quality performance levels, but when you introduce third-party components into the VMware stack, performance often suffers.

The overarching strategy behind Red Hat's cloud offerings is to provide a consistent environment that allows you to run your workloads in your enterprise data center or in a public cloud.

Bill Claybrook, Contributor

Red Hat allows you to use as many tools as you want. You can plug in your own homegrown tools or third-party management tools with no performance or functionality penalty; the open source model offers third parties access to complete sets of APIs.

Most Fortune 1000 enterprises are Red Hat customers, and Red Hat is looking to expand its cloud technologies within these enterprises. If an enterprise has VMware, then instead of urging the enterprise to tear out VMware and replace it with Red Hat cloud software, the enterprise can keep VMware and expand with Red Hat. If you happen to be an enterprise using VMware, you can use Red Hat's migration tools to move workloads from VMware ESX to Red Hat KVM and back again. Red Hat's virt v2v tool is specifically designed to automate the conversion of VMware- or Xen-based virtual servers to KVM-based virtual servers and vice versa.

If you have a Red Hat private cloud and you decide that you want to create a virtual machine (VM) on another cloud, such as a Hyper-V, and deploy a workload there, the Red Hat Deltacloud tool provides you with the appropriate management interface.

Deltacloud permits you to enable and manage a heterogeneous cloud virtualization infrastructure, including Amazon EC2, GoGrid, OpenNebula and Rackspace. Instead of having a management console for VMs based on ESX and a management console for VMs based on Hyper-V, your VMs can now be managed from a single console. Deltacloud has recently been transitioned to the Apache Foundation as an incubator project to ensure that it is viewed as a full-blown open source community project.

Managing cloud workloads with Red Hat
While Red Hat's MRG Grid can schedule workloads across clouds, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager (RHEV-M) manages and schedules workloads within a single cloud. The open source KVM hypervisor, rather than Xen, is the basis for Red Hat's RHEV offering. KVM is an upstream hypervisor, which means that it ships with the Linux kernel and takes advantage of Linux kernel updates automatically.

RHEV is an important Red Hat cloud offering because it provides much of the virtualization infrastructure for Red Hat-based clouds. It provides capabilities for hosts and guests, including high availability, live migration, storage management and system scheduler. The current release of RHEV, RHEV 2.2, provides features for enhanced scalability, support for guest operating systems with up to 16 virtual CPUs and 256 GBs of memory per virtual server. The release also provides the virt-v2v tool.

An important feature of RHEV is that it is a lightweight, bare-metal hypervisor that can be used to host Windows and Linux guests. Its Linux kernel is basically invisible; however, it does provide security, performance, and hardware support. RHEV does not provide a Linux application runtime environment like Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It is ideally suited as the virtualization layer for clouds, regardless of the application and the underlying operating system.

Strategize for your cloud deployment
Acquiring the appropriate technology might be the easiest part of building a private cloud. Early adopters are ready to build after some brief detailed technical expertise, but other customers need more help. Red Hat provides a new family of offerings, Red Hat Cloud Foundations, for to help plan, build and manage private and public clouds. Red Hat Cloud Foundation: Edition One, which includes Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Red Hat Network Satellite, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, Red Hat Enterprise MRG Grid, and JBoss Enterprise Middleware, is available now to assist in private cloud deployment.

As part of Cloud Foundations, Red Hat has introduced two new consulting offerings: Cloud Quickstart and Cloud Foundations Pathway. Cloud Quickstart provides organizations with the expertise, support, and knowledge to build, manage, and optimize a cloud service. Cloud Foundations Pathway is a service that consists of a series of tailored consulting engagements that leverage open source expertise, product recommendations and best practices to explore the viability of cloud computing and to develop a strategic roadmap for cloud adoption.

Another important piece of Red Hat's cloud strategy is Red Hat Cloud Access, a licensing model that allows customers to easily use Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscriptions in the cloud or in the data center. This is the aforementioned approach to licensing that Red Hat has created to facilitate the movement of workloads and virtual machines around in cloud environments.

Red Hat's cloud advantages
Red Hat's comprehensive portfolio is one of its strengths. When you look at Red Hat's combination of virtualization tools, operating system, middleware, service programs, and management tools, only Microsoft can truly compete. This is what sets Red Hat apart from VMware -- VMware has no operating system and essentially no middleware.

Most Fortune 1000 enterprises are Red Hat customers, and Red Hat is looking to expand its cloud technologies within these enterprises.

Bill Claybrook, Contributor

Red Hat is working to build out tools that allow you to run your applications in numerous environments: from a traditional data center, Red Hat Enterprise Linux in a cloud, or any other cloud without licensing issues, provided the cloud provider is a Red Hat Premier Cloud Provider. And according to Red Hat, the schedulers in RHEV-M and MRG Grid help you schedule the "best place" for your applications to run.

Red Hat's product strategy is to provide you with a consistent environment, whether you are running an application on Red Hat Enterprise Linux in a traditional data center, running an application in a Red Hat-based private cloud, or running an application in a public cloud. Enterprises and public clouds, such as Amazon, are running the same Red Hat Enterprise Linux bits. Red Hat also provides consistent licensing across all of these environments, along with the option to create a low-cost, flexible data center environment with Red Hat without being locked in to more expensive vendors such as Microsoft and VMware.

What cloud challenges will Red Hat face?
One of Red Hat's challenges is its competition, Microsoft and VMware, as they are also important Red Hat partners. Red Hat interoperates with both of these vendors in various ways, and the company must find a way to maintain solid relationships with Microsoft and VMware while competing with them head-on.

Another challenge will be getting users outside its installed base to buy into its cloud strategy. Will its open source tools and low prices be enough to attract customers to Red Hat's cloud?

Bill Claybrook is a marketing research analyst with more than 30 years of experience in the computer industry, with the last 10 years in Linux and open source. From 1999 to 2004, Bill was Research Director, Linux and Open Source, at Aberdeen Group in Boston. He resigned his competitive analyst/Linux product marketing position at Novell in June 2009 after spending over four and a half years at the company. He is now president of New River Marketing Research in Concord, Mass. He holds a doctorate in computer science.

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