Game of stacks: Mirantis vs. Red Hat

Is Mirantis taking customers away from one-time partner Red Hat?

Mirantis and Red Hat were once very close partners. But the affair didn’t last long, and while Mirantis continued its journey as a pure play OpenStack vendor, Red Hat continued to strengthen its enterprise offerings by building their own stack.

Mirantis has made some significant progress recently that positions it as an influential OpenStack player. Is the company making a dent in Red Hat’s empire?

First things first: Dell and Mirantis

Earlier this week, Mirantis joined the Dell Partner Program for OpenStack-powered cloud solutions. Many of you may not know that Dell is also an investor in Mirantis. But with the changing market, incumbent Dell went through a lot of restructuring efforts.

For perspective on the Dell/Mirantis history, I spoke with Boris Renski, co-founder and CMO at Mirantis. "Dell has been strategic partners with Red Hat on RHEL operating system side for a while, so they chose to make things simple and just extend that strategic relationship to OpenStack as well,” said Renski.

That happened approximately a year and a half into Mirantis’ relationship with Dell. All the interesting stuff that the two companies were doing together, all the ties were cut. Mirantis, as a pure play OpenStack vendor continued to grow. “Now, a few more years have passed. We've moved our business from being 150-person OpenStack service company to now 900-person OpenStack distribution company,” said Renski.

Mirantis joining Dell's partner program is certainly not be a big deal, there are many Dell partners, as Margaret Dawson, head of global product marketing for cloud solutions at Red Hat said, “Red Hat has been a Dell Global Alliance Partner for nearly two decades. Dell, like Red Hat, has a vast partner ecosystem, with many different partner levels. A company joining their partner program does not represent a strategic alliance, or signify any joint engineering or go-to-market efforts.”

But it does show the changed chemistry.  Renski said, “I think is not necessarily super exciting, but to me it's personally very exciting as the first step towards a much broader relationship that we're now cultivating with Dell, which is also a manifestation of the fact that we truly are becoming a platform vendor rather than just another startup."

Steve Wanless, Open Source Cloud Strategist at Dell said, “With Mirantis joining the Dell Technology Partner Program, we’re able to offer organizations that are moving to the Mirantis-based deployments the choice of doing so. The Mirantis’ reference architecture that shares best practices using Dell PowerEdge servers and Dell Networking can enable our joint customers to rapidly and repeatedly deploy their OpenStack projects."

Mirantis and AT&T

AT&T, one of the biggest networking players in the U.S. is going through a massive transition. In his keynote at Open Networking Summit, John Donovan, Chief Strategy Officer and Group President, Technology and Operations at AT&T talked about how the company is planning to virtualize 75% of its network by 2020. OpenStack is one of the core components of AT&T Integrated Cloud (AIC), and AT&T is using Mirantis OpenStack.

Renski told me that AT&T has rolled out Mirantis OpenStack in 74 data centers, and they're running live workloads on it. AT&T spends about $20 billion in infrastructure every year, which is double AWS or Google. “Now that we're there, if Dell wants to directionally be part of this AIC initiative, it's important that we work together,” said Renski. “Literally, if you are a vendor and want to be part of the AT&T AIC you have to certified and work with Mirantis OpenStack,” said Renski.

On Volkswagen's driving seat

AT&T is not the only big player that uses Mirantis OpenStack. Volkswagen also embraced Mirantis OpenStack. What made this deal of great interest is the fact that Volkswagen is a Red Hat customer. “Volkswagen is a big, big RHEL shop," Renski said. "They are, at least for the first wave, going to use the RHEL KVM, but they're going to use Mirantis OpenStack Cloud Controller to orchestrate that.”

Red Hat vs. Mirantis: Fear of vendor lock-in?

All of the above developments makes one wonder why would players like AT&T and Volkswagen choose Mirantis OpenStack and not Red Hat OpenStack?

When the Red Hat/Mirantis partnership fell apart, some publications, including the Wall Street Journal painted a picture of Red Hat as a company trying to create a vendor lock-in in the OpenStack ecosystem, going so far as to compare Red Hat with Oracle.

How much truth there is to that is up for debate. I tend to believe that open source makes vendor lock-in a tad difficult, but the fear may be real.

Talking about companies like Volkswagen, Renski said, “Directionally, they don't want to tie themselves to RHEL KVM. They have VMware workloads, they have Suse workloads. They want to make sure that they don't necessarily have to use OpenShift; they should be free to use Cloud Foundry. They want to be able to take advantage of that ecosystem innovation that is happening, and not be it's limiting their choices to those that are provided by Red Hat which in Red Hat's case is RHEL KVM.”

When I asked about AT&T, Renski said, “I can testify to the fact that one of the biggest reasons that AT&T picked us is because of the standard neutrality. Provided that that OpenStack is the broadest most open data center operating system fabric, and we're the vendor. There's no agenda outside of OpenStack, and that they're looking to remove effectively billions of dollars of kickbacks spent on legacy vendors as a result of this initiative. They very much need somebody who does not have a dog in this race, who's not interested at selling them more of that legacy gear. In AT&T's case, vendor locking in our position as a vendor initial player is definitely one of the paramount reasons why they picked us.”

But is Red Hat really trying to create some sort of vendor lock-in? Can you create vendor lock-in around open source?

Dawson, as expected, doesn't believe there is reason to fear vendor lock-in with Red Hat products. “Open source is open source. Period," Dawson said. "Our entire stack is open source in that we provide the complete source code to all of our technologies with absolutely no caveats. We also use the same open APIs externally and internally, so any projects or vendors seeking to interoperate with a Red Hat-based stack have the capacity to do so. For anyone to compare open source and choice to lock-in is simply fear-mongering and shows a poor understanding of open source principles.”

Renski countered that argument, saying that in the case of Red Hat everything revolves around RHEL: “Everything that needs a vendorship has to be based on RHEL and they see that the operating system, specifically RHEL is what the world revolves around.”

Dawson said, “Red Hat supports the technologies that our customers want, even if that’s outside of the open source realm, like HyperV and VMware, but we also support a wide variety of open source projects that we do not sponsor or have little-to-no direct affiliation with, including Puppet, which is integrated into Red Hat Satellite. Certainly there can be many benefits from using multiple technologies from the same vendor, but that’s a customer choice. The beauty of open source and of Red Hat is that we give them that flexibility.”

May open source be the winner

In the game of stacks, there may not be a single winner. Competition is healthy, and from my point of view it doesn’t matter whether it’s SUSE OpenStack, Mirantis OpenStack or Red Hat OpenStack. As long as it’s open source and customers have the freedom to choose the best solutions for their operations without fearing vendor lock-in. The market now knows where to put their eggs. And it’s certainly not in the same basket.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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