Developers are flocking to the public cloud, and if Red Hat's recent moves are an indication, deploying operating systems and applications in the public cloud is catching on with the IT crowd as well.
This week, Red Hat and Google announced that Red Hat Enterprise Linux customers can migrate their operating system subscriptions to Google's cloud platform. That makes Google only the second cloud vendor Red Hat has partnered with in this fashion; Amazon's cloud service was the first, back in 2010.
It's the latest sign that Google's big step into the cloud, which it announced less than a year ago, is gaining traction. But it's also an indication that Red Hat, which has struggled in this area, is getting more serious about making its big-business customers comfortable with the cloud.
Put Your Data Center In The Cloud
In practice, the Red Hat-Google partnership means that instead of running Red Hat Linux servers on a private network, big companies can shift those computing workloads to Red Hat "instances"—basically, computing sessions on virtual Linux servers—in Google's cloud-computing service. As Red Hat updates its version of Linux, those changes will happen automatically in the cloud, letting the IT department scratch management of operating-system updates off its to-do list.
Red Hat's move was inspired by customers asking to migrate their existing software licenses to the public cloud, said Mike Ferris, director of business architecture at Red Hat. The "public cloud" is basically any set of shared computing resources offered by a third party like Amazon or Google. By contrast, a "private cloud" is essentially an extension of a corporate data center that allows remote access; none of its resources are shared outside the company.
Although Red Hat products span many categories and are used by both developers and IT, this announcement concerns Red Hat Enterprise Linux, used widely by IT. Ferris said a "significant number of customers" have purchased software licenses to use on the cloud, and others are asking to migrate existing on-premise licenses to the cloud.
Red Hat has coined a term for this model—bring your own subscription, or BYOS, a play on the "bring your own device" trend that corporate IT managers have been forced to accommodate over the past few years. There are lots of reasons for companies to migrate to the cloud, but the general idea is to let Google or Amazon invest in data centers that can host data and applications and optimize back end infrastructure (storage, servers and networking) as needed. That frees businesses to, well, focus on running their business.
Red Hat's move "eliminates many of the complexities of changing business models," Ferris said. If a company has certified particular versions of Red Hat for its internal applications, it can use those Red Hat versions at Google or Amazon and still maintain that certification. "It eliminates additional steps they'd have to go through, and still have a relationship with Red Hat directly, so they can continue to operate the way they have on premise and consume things in the public cloud," Ferris said.
Beckoning Big Business To The Cloud
Red Hat's move, however, is still largely defensive. Its open-source rivals offer developers and smaller companies quicker, cheaper and less bureaucratically encumbered cloud platforms, forcing Red Hat to make its case to big-business customers who already run its OS in their own data centers. Red Hat has also embraced some of its open-source competitors, though it's far from clear whether that will work to its advantage.
Amazon's support for Red Hat is still much broader. On Amazon Web Services (in the Elastic Cloud Compute option, or EC2), the software available for management includes "any Red Hat platform, middleware, storage, or Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) Products," according to Red Hat. Still, Google hints there’s more to come. “This starts with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) subscriptions, with other Red Hat products to follow,” Google product manager Martin Buhr wrote in a blog post.
Using Red Hat Enterprise Linux on Google's cloud has been "in preview" since December; on Monday, it became generally available. It joins two other operating systems that also run on the Google Cloud: SUSE Linux and the aging-but-still-widely-used Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2.
Microsoft's Azure doesn't support Red Hat software in this fashion, but Microsoft and Red Hat are "currently in discussions to provide our customers improved flexibility and choice," according to a Microsoft spokesperson. Azure already lets you run and manage Canonical Ubuntu (which is shutting down its own cloud service, Ubuntu One, to focus on its platform rather than competing in the free storage wars), CentOS (now part of the Red Hat fold), Oracle Linux, SUSE Enterprise Linux Server, and OpenSUSE.
The Red Hat deal is only the latest positive sign for Google's cloud. With recent price cuts and updated software-defined networking with Andromeda, it could start catching on with IT folks as it appears to be with developers.
Lead image by Flickr user ThierryLin, CC 2.0