Red Hat CEO Whitehurst on VMware, OpenStack and CentOS

'Open source gives us brand permission to enter a ton of categories,' said Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Red Hat has been on an acquisition run with the aim of building an open source stack that leads the hybrid data center. The primary rival: VMware.

How the Red Hat vs. VMware duel plays out remains to be seen, but Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, argued that open source will ultimately define the enterprise IT architectures of the future.

I caught up with Whitehurst to talk cloud, open source and Red Hat's master plan.

Here's a look at some of the key themes from my conversation with Whitehurst:


Recent acquisitions and the big picture. Red Hat recently acquired OpenStack integrator eNovance and Inktank, a software defined storage company known for Ceph, an enterprise platform. Whitehurst said that Red Hat "is looking to create an open source stack for infrastructure and platform as a service." Red Hat makes acquisitions not based on intellectual property as much as people and involvement with innovative open source projects like Ceph, an object and block storage platform.

Ceph is a way to play scale-out storage. Whitehurst argued that storage will move to open source because of cloud computing and new analytic workloads. OpenStack will also mean that technologies such as Ceph will be adopted over time.

New workloads. The game for Red Hat and its storage and cloud platform plans really revolves around capturing new workloads in the enterprise. "We tried the migrate and replace approach with Unix to Linux. A much easier sell is using open source technologies like JBoss for new workloads and then migrate. Cloud deployments are always new workloads," said Whitehurst, who added that Red Hat's Gluster storage technology is going for new unstructured data workloads.

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Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 and incentives to upgrade. When asked why customers would migrate to RHEL 7, Whitehurst said the question missed the point. He doesn't care when they upgrade. "One of the most important parts of Red Hat's business model is we don't care if you upgrade or not. If you're a support subscriber it doesn't matter," said Whitehurst. "It doesn't economically matter to us if customers upgrade or not."

RHEL 7, which supports containers and packs a bevy of other features, will have an upgrade cycle that resembles previous releases. Customers will run existing workloads on whatever RHEL they're running today. New workloads will go to the latest version because it's built for cloud deployments both public and private.

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OpenStack. Whitehurst's enthusiasm for OpenStack hasn't waned at all. He notes that Red Hat is the biggest contributor to OpenStack and the company's goal is to make it stable, secure and enterprise class. Fragmentation isn't an issue, said Whitehurst. "A lot of competitors sell against OpenStack and say it's fragmented. It's no where near as fragmented as Linux."

Red Hat's approach to OpenStack is unique because it's selling support not hardware or consulting services. There's no incentive to make OpenStack less open by adding proprietary technologies. "We have a different value proposition then IBM or HP," said Whitehurst.

Defining Red Hat. Whitehurst chafed when I asked whether Red Hat should be seen as a Linux or cloud company. Red Hat is an open source company and that's the compass that leads every move it makes. "The way our DNA works is that we look at the most innovative open source projects that are applicable to the enterprise," he said.

That DNA has led Red Hat to the cloud, but it has led to Linux as an OS to middleware to platform as a service and virtualization. In the future, open source will lead Red Hat to networking.

"Open source gives us brand permission to enter a ton of categories," said Whitehurst. "We're looking at all technologies most valuable to the enterprise. At some point networking will be a logical thing for us and we're very involved with the Open Daylight project. We do open source and make it a production system no matter what the category."

CentOS. CentOS has generated some buzz because it's a lighter version of RHEL. One argument is that CentOS could be interesting to the enterprise because companies could hire their own Linux admins for support over Red Hat. Whitehurst said that thinking is misguided. "CentOS is a derivative of RHEL that works for people that want a stable release without support," said Whitehurst. "If they don't see the value of our model then at least I'd rather have them on something similar to RHEL."

The other item to note with CentOS is that Red Hat hired the top contributors to the project. "We don't view CentOS as a competitor. It's almost a complement," said Whitehurst, who noted that enterprises going for CentOS wouldn't be Red Hat customers anyway.

So what's the value for Red Hat? Whitehurst said CentOS gives developers a faster cadence to do new innovative things relative to RHEL, which is all about stability. "Red Hat is great for production, but there are so many new innovations with OpenStack," said Whitehurst. "There was nothing in the Red Hat family to support that. CentOS is moving faster and fills a gap in our portfolio of offerings."

In other words, CentOS gives the developer community something to play with and Red Hat can contribute and learn at a faster clip.

Red Hat vs. VMware. VMware is clearly Red Hat's No. 1 rival, said Whitehurst. "The software-defined vision is the same, but the two models are very different," said Whitehurst. "Our model is open source and theirs is licensing IP."

Whitehurst acknowledged that VMware has a strong position because it is the private cloud's defining architecture due to its virtualization share. In the long run, however, OpenStack will garner a lot of attention.

"The defining architecture for the hybrid cloud will be OpenStack or vCloud," said Whitehurst. Red Hat will do well if "we have a position in the right communities." It's unclear whether the hybrid cloud will be about managing virtual instances (VMware) or containers (OpenStack). "We don’t have a strong architectural position, but if we're involved with the communities where the innovation is happening then the value is in working with us," said Whitehurst.

One key issue for VMware will be all the vendors in the OpenStack ecosystem. The common bond between them: "No vendor in the ecosystem wants to create the next Microsoft. That's one key reason why there's so much support for OpenStack," said Whitehurst. "Customers don't want to be locked in either. Even VMware customers talk to Red Hat because they want an open alternative."

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