The world fares so much better when the warfare stops. Yesterday's partnership agreement between Linux leader Red Hat and that other operating system leader Microsoft could remove the biggest cultural and political obstruction to the evolution of data center and server technology.

“We believe customers need choice and flexibility,” said Scott Guthrie, Microsoft’s EVP for Cloud and Enterprise, during a telephone briefing with analysts Wednesday. “They don’t want just one type of cloud; they want private cloud, public cloud, and in particular, they want a hybrid flexibility to be able to span across the two.

“And as part of that, we’ve been doubling down on hybrid at Microsoft, making it the cornerstone of our cloud strategy.”

Double Down

The implications of that statement need to be explained a bit: “Cloud” no longer means the space that Amazon, and its competitors Microsoft and Google, have built to store files and host services.

“Cloud” now refers to a concept of infrastructure. At the heart of that term is the notion that workloads no longer need to be tied down to operating systems. They can float between servers (thus the “cloud” analogy) and be moved to the most appropriate locations.

Perhaps more importantly, they can scale up and now scale back down again, consuming only as much space and resources as are necessary at the moment.

“Hybrid” used to refer to the notion that some of these resources would be hosted on-premise, and some on public services, such as Microsoft Azure. More and more, all cloud architecture is becoming “hybrid.”

This is the part that Scott Guthrie says Microsoft is doubling down on. The obvious significance of this is that Microsoft has now publicly declared that its previous strategy for Windows and Windows Server — that workloads must be tied to operating systems — is now a remnant of history.

Confidence and Choice

The not-so-obvious point here is that, in any hybrid space, there will be multiple vendors and brands providing services simultaneously — there will be no Windows-like exclusivity for anyone any more. The only way for any vendor to attain any degree of prominence is through partnership.

“It really is about customers wanting confidence and choice in the enterprise cloud,” said Red Hat Executive Vice President Paul Cormier, also during Wednesday’s analysts’ call.

Cormier referred to the “four footprints” of data center technology — bare metal, virtual machines (the VMware space), private cloud, and public cloud. Any hybrid cloud infrastructure will span two or more of these points.

As organizations leave their prints on each of these spaces, Cormier said, “they want choice on what technologies they use, and they want confidence that it can run their workloads and support their enterprise-class workloads, that they’re using to run their businesses.”

Customer Liaisons

The biggest demonstration of “confidence,” to borrow Cormier’s word, that the two companies demonstrated yesterday was the exchange of each other’s engineers for the provision of product support. Microsoft has loaned out engineers to consulting firms and PC manufacturers before (for instance, Dell), but never to a company once considered a direct competitor — and not to one that, in some markets, still is.

Although a precise timetable has yet to be announced, Cormier told one analyst, step one will be for Red Hat to co-locate a support engineering team at Microsoft’s home campus in Redmond, Washington.

That co-location plan will in time become global, he added, “as we roll this out across the globe.”

No one thought to pin Cormier down as to the scintillating meaning of the “this” in his sentence. It’s a suggestion that the two companies are quite literally producing a joint cloud infrastructure platform, probably not under a single brand name, but comprised of components from both companies.

What would it consist of? Probably the customer’s choice of certain elements in different places.

Red Hat is one producer of an industry standard, open-source cloud infrastructure platform called OpenStack. This enables hybrid clouds in data centers, and more importantly, enables the orchestration of workloads across servers spanning multiple geographies, including on-premise.

Microsoft also produces a stack of its own, that’s completely different: Azure Stack, which is essentially the same operating system and resources that run Microsoft’s public Azure cloud, packaged to be self-provisioning and easily installable on-premise.

Organizations need the ability to run Windows-based workloads on OpenStack. They may also, more and more, be interested in running Linux-based virtual environments on Azure Stack, especially if they subscribe to Azure public cloud services.

Under the co-location agreement, both Microsoft and Red Hat will provide support for both conceivable arrangements. This is especially huge for Red Hat, whose value proposition (as a provider of open source software that other vendors, such as SUSE, also produce) is centered around customer support.


“Examining the partnership in more depth, we note that this is not just one of those joint declarations,” notes Al Hilwa, IDC’s Program Director for Software Development Research, in a note to CMSWire. “There is significant intent to work together deeply on supporting technologies from both companies in a way that is valuable for their joint customers.”

Technically, it has already been possible to deploy Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) in a virtual machine running on Azure. Now Azure will make it feasible for data centers to transfer their Red Hat licenses directly to Azure – meaning, the IT department can provide Azure with its Red Hat license data, and deploy RHEL on Azure instantly.

On the reverse side of the spectrum, on Red Hat’s PaaS platform for hosting applications, called OpenShift, developers will soon be able to deploy their .NET applications to Red Hat’s cloud (Microsoft’s family of languages, which include Visual Basic, C#, and F#) and expect support for those applications from both Red Hat and Microsoft, actually working together.

Yes, this truly does mean that Red Hat becomes Microsoft’s preferred supplier of Linux. Not only has the hatchet been buried, it has been driven down deep and plastered over by several layers of concrete.

“In many ways, this partnership underlines the high level of maturity the open source model business model has achieved today and the broad acceptance and use it has received in the enterprise,” IDC’s Hilwa told us. “While the war between Microsoft and Linux has effectively ended in recent years as the company embraced Linux in its Azure cloud, the partnership should act as an epilogue to the troubled narrative.”

But is this as far as it goes, I asked Hilwa? “I believe this goes way beyond just Azure. Lots of collaborative support on both parts of the stack on-premises, running on each other’s stuff…” Hilwa responded, before drifting off into a daydream of truly expanded possibilities.

A decade ago, a state of open warfare existed between Microsoft and Red Hat, with Microsoft’s then-CEO Steve Ballmer challenging Red Hat to participate in the intellectual property community with royalties, or face the wrath of his company’s attorneys.

When Microsoft entered into a “covenant” agreement with Novell not to sue one another, many saw it as an example of an open source company selling out to save its skin — a defection, a surrender.

But one commenter to a publication I edited at that time had this comment: “Wake up Microsoft, you're no longer the only game in town. Unless you begin making the best product in town and start competing, you'll eventually end up another Wang.”

It would appear the comments section was being read after all.