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Novell and Red Hat: Taking Linux to the Cloud

Open Source Rivals Novell and Red Hat march to different tunes as they take their Linux strategies to the cloud

Open Source Journal on Ulitzer

It is interesting to see how Open source rivals Red Hat and Novell have transferred their Linux warfare to the cloud. As both companies seek to use their open source history to advantage on the web platform by spouting standard mantras about avoiding vendor lock-ins and low cost, they have also taken different approaches on other counts when taking their cloud services to market.

Red Hat is full of idealistic enthusiasm about innovation, progress and being open through and through. It has always been a vociferous proponent of open standards and Open content that is hundred percent free from licensing or royalty payments and has been singing along the same tunes on cloud. It has been up in arms with Microsoft on many issues including opposing the approval of Microsoft Office Open XML by the International Organization for Standardization. Novell on the other hand has leveraged its Microsoft partnership beautifully for many years. It claims to hold an advantage in terms of vendor interoperability in mixed-source environments comprising of both Open source and Proprietary platforms. This is mainly thanks to of course its Microsoft alliance which allows for Novell’s technology to seamlessly integrate with Windows servers and related networks. The partnership has also worked in Novell’s favor to reduce cloud deployment costs while Microsoft wages its proxy war against Red Hat through Novell’s SUSE Linux. Novell has more recently earned headlines making noises about Cloud security.

Novell won big last week. Following the UK Government’s recently revamped IT policy promoting open source usage and cloud computing, National Health Service, the publicly funded Health care System in England has extended a networking deal worth around £6 million with Novell encompassing IT security, storage and remote workload management. Novell has been propagating the idea of unified security and IT management service over physical, virtual and cloud environments since December and calls it Intelligent Workload Management. The NHS agreement is a good indication that its new service realignment is working.

In 2006 when Novell decided to make a deal with Microsoft over better interoperability between Novell’s Linux and Windows products, it provoked outrage in the Linux camp. Since then both companies have come out with several integrated virtualization solutions. Now with the latest version of SUSE Linux Enterprise, Novell ‘s commercial distribution of the open-source operating system, Novell has perched itself closer to the Redmond based Desktop king as it has become easier than ever for Novell’s Linux users to use content developed with Silverlight, Microsoft's plugin for creating interactive Web applications. Adding to the controversy, several of the Novell sponsored Opensource projects like Mono and Moonlight have become deeply ingrained with Microsoft which of late has been trying to make nice with Open source through its non-profit Codeplex Foundation. Open source fans don’t seem to be pacified as the Windows company is still largely looked upon with suspicion. Curiously this fact does not seem to have deterred Novell one bit as it sits comfortably in Microsoft’s camp.

As a part of its cloud pitch, Novell has also chosen to isolate and target the single major impediment in cloud adoption namely security. By trying to address security concerns that plague cloud-non believers through the launch of Novell Cloud Security Service, it is clearly positioning itself as supplier of cloud security products. Its software claims to address security issues by allowing for identity and access management for cloud-based apps to aid data segregation in shared cloud premises like Amazon EC2 on which the SUSE enterprise platform is certified to run.

In the meantime , Red Hat just released, a beta version of , of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.5 that boasts increased virtualization capabilities for mega data centers. It has been offering Linux on Amazon EC2 for over a year in beta testing. Now it has fully certified its EC2 Cloud programs .Last week at Red Hat's Open Source Cloud Computing Forum, it further revealed a number of open source applications on the works for cloud deployment like BoxGrinder for cross platform apps development, BoxGrinder Studio for building cloud-ready software appliances ( Novell incidentally has the same idea with SUSE Studio) , and Infinispan a generic tool to enable scaling of large distributed storage with focus on compatibility. The cloud is incomplete without a virtualization strategy and Red Hat has been pushing the Red Hat Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) virtualization technology since its 2008 acquisition of Qumarent, the vendor that first spearheaded KVM . It even put aside its grievances against Microsoft and made a pact with it to enable cross-certification of the companies' virtualization platforms. After surveying 100 IT managers, Murphy and Schwartz, two Piper Jaffray & Co analysts in a study called "The Future Is In The Cloud: A Survey Driven Forecast For Cloud Computing," predict that "Red Hat will play an important role as its open source solutions are often the foundation of cloud computing…" That is compared to other companies; Red Hat already has the infrastructure with respect to a well-oiled low cost Linux system that is often used in cloud deployments, enough to gain a significant traction in cloud in a short period of time. What’s more most major cloud service providers like Salesforce.com and Google run Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux anyway.

So who will triumph in the Linux cloud race? Red Hat is definitely a popular choice and according to many the verdict is obviously in favor of Red Hat. Being the Linux leader in shipments and market share, it is banking on the thought that CIOs will follow their favorite open source server into cloud. On the same note, it is safe to say that Novell does not evoke the same enthusiasm as many open source backers are still uncomfortable with it cozying up to Microsoft. Many skeptics are critical about Novell’s ability to take its cloud security pitch to the mainstream or to become any kind of Industry leader in the cloud domain. But integrating cloud management and security is a clever strategy on Novell’s part that could turn out to be its winning formula in the end. 2010 will be a game changing year for the cloud scene with several other promising new entrants like Eucalyptus Systems and Cloudera, also riding both the cloud and open source bandwagon. In an evolving cloud landscape that is yet a long way from attaining maturity, the exciting fact is that no one can be taken for granted or overlooked.

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