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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

“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

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.