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Red Hat talks tough on competitors

At its recent conference Red Hat took a more pugnacious stance against competitors--and partners.

Red Hat announced a range of cool new products and technologies last week at Red Hat Summit, but the most potent message emerging from the conference may well have been 'Diplomacy be damned!' Red Hat has generally opted to publicly ignore competitors, but not anymore. The company singled out Microsoft and Oracle, in particular. Is this a new, combative Red Hat?

Red Hat's DeltaCloud was the big technical news, offering a "common API to blend public and private clouds." It also announced a new Catalyst program to corral a partner ecosystem around its infrastructure products.

But for me, it was Red Hat's swipes at its competitors that are possibly more momentous. It's not that Red Hat never criticizes competitors: in 2006, for example, Red Hat declared the imminent death (wrongly, as it turns out) of Novell.

But there's a difference between criticizing pure competitors and those companies, like Oracle, that Red Hat both competes with in some markets and partners in others.

Hence, when Red Hat's executive vice president of products and technologies, Paul Cormier, singled out Microsoft Azure for its potential to lock in customers, this was an easy jab at a company that drives no Red Hat revenue.

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst's scorn for Oracle's technology strategy, however, has the potential to damage the companies' partnership:

Do you want to buy into Larry Ellison's vision of what your IT infrastructure should be and what functionality you should provide to your customers, or should you listen to your customers and be flexible?

This second critique has more sting because Red Hat and Oracle partner as much as they compete. Oracle first caused waves in the partnership by cloning Red Hat Enterprise Linux and undercutting Red Hat's pricing, but Red Hat's response ("It's a fork and not a particularly good one") was relatively muted. It had to be: Oracle's database certification for RHEL has long been a driver of RHEL sales.

Is this a sign of a new Red Hat, one that will not only talk down competitors but also be willing to take them down by entering competitor-partners' product markets?

I hope so. There's no way for Red Hat to grow without stepping on partners' toes. I'm not suggesting Red Hat should declare war on its partners, but it certainly needs to be willing to make partners uncomfortable, as it did by acquiring JBoss. It's a sign of a more competitive Red Hat.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.