The RedHat controversy

Several articles, including one in the Wall Street Journal
hit the press last week regarding RedHat policy of only supporting RedHat guests in RedHat Linux, VMWare or HyperV Hosts.

While this policy had probably been around for a while, several RedHat customers i work with have recently changed their deployment plans towards having dual hypervisor sulotions (ubuntu + RHEL) in order to be able to run RHEL hosts under support.

RedHat seems to be using this tatic to stem its market share loss in the virtualization and OpenStack hypervisor space. In a blog post, RedHat seems to imply that its competitors providing Linux hosts “cavalierly compile and ship, untested OpenStack offerings”. Ironically, several people that i spoke with last week have echoed the opinion that RHEL 6.x is rather problematic for a cloud deployment, questioning whether it can be used in production.

One cloud provider that i spoke with, immediatly replied that they had to replaced the kernel and KVM versions in their CentOS 6.x version when i questioned thier choice of OS distribution. This seems to match the general consensus of what I hear through the grapevine. I understand than an anecdote is not data but in the sample universe i’ve access to there seems to be a strong signal.

The underlying problem here seems to be that RHEL 7 is late. That is most likely the main reason ubuntu is continuing to gain market share in virtualization / OpenStack. This is the reflection of RedHat’s success. Given its large user base, it is quite difficult to transition between 6.x and 7. Enterprise customers do expect backwards compatibility and consistency of behavior, which ends up meaning than one customer’s bug is another customer’s feature.

By strong arming its customers using the RHEL guest support policy RedHat will achieve short term gains at long term costs. Customers will certainly think twice next time they will have a project where there is an option to choose guest OSes.

RedHat is also proving something that most already know: Open source is not an antidote for vendor lock-in. Customers writing an application for a RHEL OS are using mostly APIs that are available on other systems and API portability is extremely important; but a product must be validated along with its platform and that implies that it is not trivial to switch OS distributions. 

The only solution for vendor lock-in is a market with healthy competion. It is curious to note than open source can also be used as a tool to reduce competition is an specific market: either by reducing the monetizable value of a specific type of products or when companies with a strong presence in a particular open source project use that position to control access.

It will be interesting to watch the fallout from this story as it develops.

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