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Embracing OpenStack: How Red Hat commoditized open source cloud computing

By leveraging OpenStack, Red Hat plans to commoditized cloud computing, just like they commoditized open source Linux ten years ago.

Red Hat is staking their claim on the relatively new, yet incredibly successful open source project known as OpenStack, as the thought leaders at the organization who brought the world RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) now believe that there is as much gold to be mined from the cloud computing as there was from the Linux segment ten years ago.

We found that the OpenStack team was really driving hard on what they needed from the Linux team.

Brian Stevens, Red Hat CTO

As we all know, Red Hat isn't in the business of creating new products from scratch. Instead, they take existing, open-source technologies, make those technologies more accessible to the masses, and then they wrap those technologies up in service agreements, providing organizations support when things go sideways. It's a strategy that has worked quite effectively with their Linux OS offerings and various other complimentary middleware products which they have been servicing over the past decade. But is this a profitable strategy that can be taken to the cloud? Smart money at Red Hat believes that it is.

Red Hat is investing significant time, money and resources wrapping up OpenStack and making it the core of their Red Hat Cloud Infrastructure. Over the past several years, many of the key changes that the open source community has requested from the Linux gatekeepers have been improvements that would make Linux play better with virtualization, hypervisors, namespaces and various other technical components that make cloud computing possible. "We found that the OpenStack team was really driving hard on what they needed from the Linux team," said Brian Stevens,  Red Hat's Chief Technology Officer, in his keynote address as the 2013 Red Hat Summit.  "A whole new set of features, capabilities and innovation were needed inside of Linux." Seeing that their beloved operating system was slowly being morphed into a cloud computing enabler, Red Hat realized that it was time to get in front of the trend, and not just passively support the OS level changes that were driving it.

Defining OpenStack

So what  is OpenStack? The software project defines itself as "a cloud operating system that controls large pools of compute, storage, and networking resources throughout a data center, all managed through a dashboard that gives administrators control while empowering their users to provision resources through a web interface." OpenStack is becoming a key player in the cloud computing space with over 150 companies supporting the project. In the same way Red Hat earned their keep by replacing legacy RISC based UNIX systems with open source Linux, the new vision is to create shareholder value by replacing the computing environments of today with OpenStack.

Compute, storage and networking

The OpenStack vision is to create a software package that defines a cloud computing environment for not just computing, but for storage and networking as well, which means the project combines a variety of other subprojects that implement each piece.

Nova, a project that originated in the NASA Ames Research Laboratory, is the project that provides the cloud computing fabric controller, which represents the main part of the OpenStack IaaS system. A key element of the compute cloud, Nova provides a modular, component based architecture with fault tolerance, high availability, recovery features and API compatibility with competing and complimentary technologies such as Amazon EC2.

And while the compute tier is driven by Nova provisioning the compute tier,the storage tier, which does everything from adding persistence to the various virtual machines so that VMs can be taken offline and put back online without losing their existing state, to providing file system type storage, is powered by Swift, Cinder and Gluster.

And while the compute and storage tier are fairly flush with reliable and proven technologies, the cloud compliant networking tier remains a bit more of a challenge. However, since the September 2012 release of OpenShift, Quantum has been a key component of OpenStack, providing a Networking as a Service to the architecture stack.

Can Red Hat take this readily available open source, cloud computing technology and subsequently brand it and commoditize it as they did with Linux ten years ago?  Ten years ago, pushing Linux into the enterprise was more about being first to market and replacing legacy systems. Pushing OpenStack means joining a crowded market segment and competing on innovation. If there is any company that could, it is Red Hat. But with competitors like Microsoft with Azure and VMWare with their various Fabric offerings, it won't be an easy challenge.

Let us know what you think of Red Hat's increased focus on cloud computing technology.

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