Red Hat touts Linux experience as container differentiator

With containers built on Linux, Red Hat believes vendors touting products in this space can do so effectively only when they have the ability to fully support a commercial Linux distribution.

SAN FRANCISCO, USA--Any vendor that peddles a container platform will have to be a commercial Linux distributor, declares Red Hat, which believes it has significant advantage here with its own distribution.

The vendor has gone big on containers, unveiling a host of new releases and updates here this week at the Red Hat Summit 2016 and offering what it is touting to be a complete family of products to support an organisation's entire container journey. These included the OpenShift Container Local, an on-premise product offered free to developers, as well as the OpenShift Container Lab and containerised Gluster Storage, which allows storage to be rolled out in standard containers and managed on the OpenShift platform alongside containerised applications.

Red Hat said this integration across the complete application lifecycle, spanning design, build, test, and production, will help organisations ensure consistency as they develop and push their apps to production.

Tim Yeaton, Red Hat's senior vice president of infrastructure business, said: "It's the evolution of our platform strategy in an era of containers. What we've done is create a unique consistent way for individual developers and teams to build, test, and deploy container-based applications, without having to change or rewrite when they go to production.

"All the pieces work together, so individual developers can go from doing some initial prototyping work on a laptop, and have a workflow that takes that all the way to production at scale on the same OpenShift platform, even sitting on top of something like OpenStack that scales it out," Yeaton said.

He added that all of these needed to be deployed as a single fabric, providing the same set of management tools and stack to manage all containerised apps, including traditional workloads such as virtualised and bare-metal workflows.

"No one has been able to construct a PaaS, PaaS supporting containers, IaaS, and traditional applications into a single fabric and way of building and deploying those applications," he said.

With other vendors also rushing to push their own container offerings including VMware, Microsoft, and Docker, which itself helped popularise containers, Red Hat is eager for its expertise in Linux to be a market differentiator.

This would be especially critical since any vendor that dealt with containers would effectively have to be a commercial Linux distributor, said Red Hat's president of products and technologies, Paul Cormier.

"Containers are Linux...and in order to be a container vendor, you have to be a commercial Linux vendor," he said, during a briefing with Asian media at the summit. "It's Linux in a different form factor. Just like a Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) VM running on top of VMware is still a RHEL, it's the same thing with containers. If you're going to be a container vendor, you're going to do Linux. It's just the way it is."

This was a point Corimer reiterated several times during the summit this week, where he also pushed Red Hat's 16-year headstart with its commercial Linux distribution as a key market differentiator, providing the vendor with a strong install base, experience, and established processes.

While there were other variants of containers built on Solaris and FreeBSD, Linux-based containers had proved most effective and adopted in the market today, driven largely by the popularity of Docker.

According to Matthew Cheung, Gartner's research director for technology and service provider research, Red Hat's growth opportunities were among market areas it emphasised at the summit this week, including OpenStack, containers, and management.

These, Cheung said, were driven by cloud computing, new apps development and business digital transformation. Based in Singapore, the Gartner analyst specialises in operating systems, virtualisation, IT operations management software as well as open source software and OpenStack.

No longer about Unix to Linux

Identifying new growth areas would be essential, especially as Red Hat could face challenges as it looked to sustain its growth path.

Cheung noted that the momentum around Unix-to-Linux migration was "drying up" and the software vendor would need to find new growth areas such as in automation and orchestration as well as technologies related to app development, specifically, containers.

He added that the bulk of Red Hat's revenue was not cloud-related or from "new generation products" and it had limited presence in public cloud, though, it had attempted to address this, for instance, through its partnership with Microsoft Azure.

Cormier, though, dismissed the impact of a diminishing Unix migrant community, noting that this was no longer a key driver of Red Hat's revenue.

While he acknowledged that RHEL, in its early days, was focused on commoditising the Unix world and bringing these users to the Linux platform, the level of innovation around Linux since then and over the past 15 years had propelled its adoption beyond cost savings.

"Our server growth of RHEL is outpacing new server shipment growth because we're taking market share and new workloads," he said. "We don't even track Unix-to-Linux [momentum] anymore."

He further noted that Red Hat's cloud strategy revolved around hybrid, not public, because most enterprise customers today preferred a mixed environment, running workloads across on-premise, as well as both private and public clouds.

"We see customers using public cloud as a piece of their environment. They want extraction so they don't get locked into one public cloud," Cormier explained. "They want to be able to manage and control all of these as one, [with] one common operating environment, and one set of tools."

Red Hat's goal then, he added, was to ensure its products supported this capability, regardless of which public cloud they were running their workloads.

Based in Singapore, Eileen Yu reported for ZDNet from Red Hat Summit 2016 in San Francisco, USA, on the invitation of Red Hat.