Red Hat seeks to certify the cloud (Q&A)

Exec Mike Evans talks about how Red Hat aims to extend its dominance in on-premise Linux deployments to off-premise cloud deployments.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
5 min read

For all the hype around cloud computing, two big issues continue to keep CIOs from feeling safe participating: security and interoperability. Red Hat, by announcing its Premier Cloud Provider Certification and Partner Program and Amazon's entry in that program, hopes to allay these concerns and claim for itself a significant percentage of the money set to pour into the cloud-computing gold rush.

For the past five years, CIOs have given Red Hat top ranking for value. A significant part of this value, as Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst revealed on Red Hat's first-quarter earnings call, is the company's ability to corral a complex array of third-party software vendor certifications and package them into the Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform, giving the CIO peace of mind that whatever the application, it will "just work" on RHEL.

Now Red Hat wants to bring that peace of mind to the cloud, effectively giving CIOs a way to follow the Red Hat brand well beyond the four walls of their data center into public cloud offerings like Amazon Web Services, and then back to their own private clouds, if they so choose.

With over 3,500 applications certified to work with RHEL, and likely thousands of others that haven't sought formal certification, Red Hat is offering CIOs a safe way to extend their computing to the cloud. Intriguingly, it's likely that only Microsoft can make similarly potent claims, given its own application ecosystem and core infrastructure that can be used to power cloud computing.

Red Hat and Microsoft, duking it out to be the center of the cloud.

The two companies bring a very different mindset to cloud computing, not the least reason being that Microsoft's cloud offering, Azure, also competes with the very cloud providers it hopes to enable. Red Hat is not competing with its partners.

Red Hat's strategy is founded in choice, as I discovered in a call with Mike Evans, Red Hat's vice president of Corporate Development, who has been heading up Red Hat's cloud-computing efforts.

Mike Evans, VP of corporate development, Red Hat

Q. Red Hat isn't one to try to hang out with "the cool kids," just because they're cool. Why is Red Hat getting into cloud computing now? What do you hope to accomplish?
Evans: Some may not remember, but Red Hat has actually been involved with cloud computing since at least 2007, when we announced we were offering RHEL in Amazon's Elastic Computing Cloud (EC2) service. During that time we were fine-tuning our cloud offering, not only technologically but also from a support and business model perspective. Cloud computing is a fundamental shift in how software gets delivered, and it took roughly 18 months of largely beta testing to get to a point where we felt we had an offering that could live up to Red Hat's reputation for quality and service.

During that beta period, we spent a lot of time talking with CIOs, trying to understand their concerns with cloud computing and how Red Hat could overcome them. CIOs have two primary concerns with cloud computing--security and interoperability--but also worry around SLAs [service-level agreements], compliance, and more. The area where Red Hat felt like it could have the biggest immediate impact is on interoperability.

There are three levels of interoperability: data formats, management and measurement, and applications.

Data-format interoperability is the lowest level, and basically means, "Once I'm running my application with Cloud Provider X, can I get my data out and move my application to Cloud Provider Y?" This turns out to be non-trivial to overcome if different cloud providers run on different "substrates," or infrastructure components like operating system, application servers, etc.

Then there is the management and measurement piece. Once IT starts working with a given set of tools like Hyperic for managing its cloud assets on, for example, its Rightscale cloud, will it be able to continue using these same tools if it moves to a private cloud or Amazon cloud? A CIO needs to know that its tools investment will follow it from cloud to cloud. Again, this is difficult when switching between disparate cloud "substrates."

Today, virtually every cloud-computing service, with the exception of Microsoft's, is built using open-source software.... Microsoft, too, will need to eventually capitulate to open source because it simply won't be able to keep up.

Finally, interoperability is a question of application portability. How can a CIO be sure that an application written for a Google cloud will work with Salesforce, Amazon, or another cloud?

At the macro level, Red Hat and open source can break down these interoperability barriers. We can't hide behind proprietary APIs. It's in our DNA to be interoperable.

It's also in cloud computing's DNA. Today, virtually every cloud-computing service, with the exception of Microsoft's, is built using open-source software. This works to Red Hat's advantage, because the world is already building cloud computing on Linux, for example.

For its part, Microsoft, too, will need to eventually capitulate to open source because it simply won't be able to keep up. Imagine having to rewrite all of the great open-source cloud software like Hadoop. How can Microsoft do that and remain competitive?

Why Red Hat? What role does your certification program play in all this?
Evans: Red Hat is firmly positioned to take on CIOs' core concerns with security and interoperability. With JBoss, RHEL, and our virtualization offerings, Red Hat already provides the trusted low-level infrastructure, or "substrate" as I've called it, upon which many CIOs depend. Given that we believe most cloud-computing involvement, at least initially, will be in private clouds, it's important that CIOs feel they can trust their cloud infrastructure. Red Hat delivers that trust.

We want, however, for CIOs to feel that they can move to public clouds like Amazon Web Services with confidence, so this certification program offers cloud-computing vendors a way to tell reluctant CIOs, "This cloud is safe for you." Our business model is founded in choice, as CIOs know. We're looking to make clouds safe, not a new way to lock them in. This new certification program is a significant step toward making cloud computing a reality for many CIOs that would otherwise be too nervous.

We're also offering a great way to bring confidence to ISVs that don't want to have to rewrite their applications for all the different cloud-computing providers. One aim of this certification program is to provide a certified, common substrate to which ISVs can write their applications. Many ISVs will find that the work they've already done to certify to RHEL will work just fine with RHEL in the cloud. JBoss, for example, worked "out of the box" when we ran it in the cloud for the first time.

Finally, CIOs are concerned about getting support and security updates for their applications and workloads, whether running on private clouds or public clouds. CIOs aren't dumping their private computing infrastructure in a mad rush to public clouds. They want good ways to leverage both. This Red Hat program certifies select cloud providers that have a strong support, technical, and business partnership with Red Hat, giving CIOs confidence to move into the public cloud.

In these ways, Red Hat is taking the complexity and risk out of cloud computing for end customers, ISVs, and cloud providers. We spent 18 months making the cloud work for Red Hat, and now want to make those efforts available to others through this certification program.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.