When Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) recently announced its long-term strategy for OpenShift, I began to think about potential implications for cloud-focused application developers and emerging cloud consultants. Already, cloud developers are seeking to understand cloud platforms like OpenStack, CloudStack, Microsoft Windows Azure and VMware Cloud Foundry. Amid all that noise, can Red Hat attract developers to OpenShift? And equally important: Can cloud consultants explain OpenShift and its alternatives to business customers?
So far, Red Hat is positioning OpenShift, a platform as a service (PaaS), mostly for enterprise customers and developers. There isn't much -- if any -- chatter about OpenShift for SMB (small and midsize business) use.
Red Hat unveiled OpenShift in May 2011. By April 2012, Red Hat open sourced OpenShift through a project called OpenShift Origin. And in May 2012, Red Hat offered updates regarding the OpenShift road map. That roadmap explains how OpenShift is built atop Red Hat's core technologies. According to Red Hat:
"Combining the core enterprise technologies that power OpenShift PaaS– including Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Red Hat Storage, JBoss Enterprise Middleware and OpenShift’s integrated programming languages, frameworks and developer tools – Red Hat plans to deliver the OpenShift cloud application platform available as a PaaS for enterprises in an open and hybrid cloud."
Potential OpenShift Opportunities
No doubt, Red Hat will try to convince existing Red Hat Enterprise Linux ISVs (independent software vendors), JBoss integrators and other channel partners to embrace OpenShift. And it sounds like there will be three ways for enterprise customers to use OpenShift, including:
- As a service. A fee-based version of OpenShift.RedHat.com is expected to launch in late 2012.
- As a private PaaS offering. Where enterprises run OpenShift on their own.
- On a third-party cloud or via a third-party virtualization provider -- though it's unclear to me at this time which third parties might be options for Red Hat customers.
Rival PaaS Offerings
In some ways, OpenShift sounds most similar to VMware's Cloud Foundry, another emerging PaaS platform. A safe guess:
- Red Hat will likely assert that OpenShift coupled with Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) will offer a lower-cost, more open approach forward vs. VMware Cloud Foundry and vSphere virtualization.
- VMware (NYSE: VMW), on the flip side, will likely assert that its virtualization software remains the most scalable, most reliable, easiest-to-manage foundation for cloud services.
Meanwhile, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) continues to march forward with its own PaaS play -- Windows Azure. Microsoft hasn't said much about Windows Azure's revenue base so far, and there have been rumors that Microsoft may rebrand Windows Azure amid a slow market start (personally, I doubt the rumors).
In recent weeks, a growing list of ISVs (independent software vendors) have launched applications in the Windows Azure cloud. One example is CA Technologies' ARCserve, a backup and recovery software platform that started out as an on-premises solution. But in some cases, Microsoft is paying third-party ISVs to support Windows Azure, Talkin' Cloud has confirmed with multiple sources. That could be a sign that Microsoft is struggling to make Azure a mainstream success.
Talkin' Cloud will seek an update during Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2012 (WPC12, July 8-12, Toronto).
PaaS vs. IaaS
Elsewhere, some folks are comparing OpenShift, Cloud Foundry and Windows Azure to OpenStack and CloudStack. But that's not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison.
- OpenStack (originally promoted by Rackspace) and CloudStack (originally promoted by Citrix) are IaaS. Here, cloud providers typically offer virtual machines, raw block storage, firewalls and other basic network infrastructure.
- OpenShift, Cloud Foundry and Windows Azure are PaaS. Here, cloud providers typically offer a solution stack (operating systems, databases and web serviers) to application developers.
Time to Educate Your Customers
Cloud developers certainly understand all the jargon above. But it's a safe bet most CIOs (chief information officers) and corporate executives don't know the differences between OpenShift, Cloud Foundry and other emerging PaaS options.
That's where cloud consultants and cloud integrators enter the picture. And so far, I don't think Red Hat and its rivals have done enough to educate consultants and integrators about the cloud opportunities ahead.