Once upon a time Red Hat was content to be the enterprise Linux leader and VMware was happy to be the dominant virtual infrastructure vendor.
As the two companies have sought growth, they've increasingly stepped on each other's toes, with recent VMware marketing taking strong swipes at its erstwhile partner, Red Hat, highlighting Pizza Hut as a high-profile customer defection from Red Hat to VMware.
Can't the two companies just get along?
Probably not. Back in 2006, Red Hat and VMware announced an "expanded relationship to support customers and ISVs who are deploying virtualization." Since that time, Red Hat has significantly expanded its virtualization product portfolio, while VMware has acquired SpringSource, pitting it directly against Red Hat's JBoss middleware business.
If anything, the situation is likely to get worse.
As Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady posits, the desire for growth may well lead Red Hat to follow VMware, which recently acquired RabbitMQ, into the so-called NoSQL market. Such technology can be critical to constructing enterprise clouds, a market that both Red Hat and VMware are keen to compete in.
It will be interesting to watch how the two companies jointly serve customers, who still will have plenty of need for both Red Hat and VMware in the same data centers, while simultaneously competing for mindshare within those same data centers. Red Hat has demonstrated in the past, particularly with Oracle, that it can be a great partner and fierce competitor at the same time.
VMware may be different, however, given how much the two companies' product portfolios increasingly overlap, a trend that seems likely to accelerate. For example, if Suse Linux becomes available through a buyout of Novell, it would be reasonable to expect VMware to lodge a bid, given that its lack of an operating system leaves it vulnerable to Red Hat (and other competitors like Microsoft).
It's an intriguing game of brinkmanship the two partners-cum-competitors seem destined to play as they duke it out to own the data center.