Red Hat Ups Cloud Computing Game

By Carolyn April  |  Print this article Print

With a new cloud partner program, open-source maven Red Hat tosses a competitive stake in the ground against Microsoft, which is struggling with its cloud services channel message.

As Microsoft partners profess confusion about how they can cash in on the cloud services offerings emanating from Redmond, Wash., Red Hat made it clear this week that it isn’t planning to take a backseat in the race to court ISVs and the broader channel to its own cloud platform initiatives.

On Tuesday, Red Hat announced the Premier Cloud Provider Certification and Partner Program, which enlists industry leaders in cloud computing to become certified to offer Red Hat technology solutions. Partners in this program will collaborate with Red Hat on technical support, security updates, hardware certification, sales and marketing, and business models, the company said.

The company believes it is strongly positioned to play a major role in supporting cloud computing because of its open-source foundation. Open-source technologies are ubiquitous among much of the cloud computing architecture, a neutral platform and set of tools that helps resolve interoperability issues that arise with cloud services and on-premises infrastructure, the company contends.

"Open source is really driving the pieces here," says Mike Evans, vice president of corporate development at Red Hat. "Nearly all of the cloud players are using Linux and open-source virtualization with exception of Microsoft. I don’t think any cloud provider can compete without using open-source technologies."

The new partner program looks to serve Red Hat customers who want to transfer and use Red Hat subscriptions in cloud environments by giving them access to third-party cloud providers with proven knowledge and expertise around Red Hat solutions. Red Hat officials said also that many of their ISVs want to begin offering certified Red Hat Enterprise Linux- or JBoss Enterprise Middleware-based applications in a software-as-a-services model to tap into that growing delivery trend, but prefer to do so through a cloud provider already familiar with their open-source platform.

The first Premier Cloud Provider Partner is Amazon Web Services, the company announced today. But Red Hat officials said they expect to continue signing up third-party cloud provider partners to accommodate the rush toward this ubiquitous type of computing model.

"We believe Red Hat's consistent dedication to open source and open standards will further the success of a strong cloud ecosystem," Evans says.

Red Hat’s pushing of a strong partner message around cloud computing tosses a competitive stake in the ground against Microsoft, which has struggled to balance its own entrance into cloud services with its bread-and-butter on-premises software licensing business. Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference kicks off July 12, and its cloud computing initiatives—including the forthcoming Azure platform and Business Productivity Online Services—are front of mind for many partners who claim to be uncertain of how Microsoft is structuring things for the channel.

"The cloud initiative is a big unknown. We really don’t have a lot of answers right now," says Brian Jaenisch, Microsoft partner business development manager for Marco, a solution provider and gold certified Microsoft partner in St. Cloud, Minn.

Jaenisch contends there has been nothing concrete from his partner account managers or other Microsoft contacts with respect to how the pricing model works and whether the recurring margins the company is promising to resell the services will remain in place, unchanged. "If we move our customers to the cloud computing environment, are we cutting our own throats because we sell software and hardware?" he asks.

"Going forward, what’s to say that Microsoft can’t say that 12 percent and 6 percent [margin] you’re getting, you’re not going to get anymore? Then what?"

Microsoft officials are expected to provide more detail into the partner business model for Azure and the cloud computing initiatives at WPC in New Orleans. The bottom line is that partners want to know how they will make money in this new environment—not just set margins, but the opportunity for additional scaling revenue.

The cloud computing space is attracting many comers. Both Cisco and Unisys jumped further into the game this week. Unisys is attempting to carve out a niche as the answer to the cloud model's security questions. Cisco clarified its strategy by saying it will not compete with pay-as-you-go cloud computing providers such as Amazon Web Services, but will offer its own software as a service.