The Red Hat/Microsoft Alliance

If an enemy has alliances, the problem is grave and the enemy’s position strong; if he has no alliances, the problem is minor and the enemy’s position weak.

Sun Tzu, “The art of war”, written between 476 and 221 BC (approximately)

We continue our analysis of the “hypervisor wars” with another reference to the 2000-year-old- Art of War.  It is clear that virtualization has shifted the alliances in the industry, and that new alliances are being forged.

Red Hat and Microsoft have spent the last ten years battling each other across the frontiers between Linux and Windows, J2EE and .NET, SQL Server and LAMP, Office and OpenOffice.  Red Hat and Microsoft have been too powerful to forge alliances with each other. When Microsoft decided to come to an uneasy truce in the battle between Office and OpenOffice, it ostentatiously chose the weaker Linux player, Novell, rather than the dominant player, Red Hat.

But needs must, and given the existential threat posed by VMware (that we noted in a recent post) and no matter how remote it may consider that threat to be, in February 2009 Microsoft joined forces with Red Hat to cross-certify their flagship server products, and on October 7th both Red Hat and Microsoft issued synchronised announcements,

  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2, 5.3, 5.4 has passed certification tests when running on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V, Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V, Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2.
  • Windows Server 2003/ Windows Server 2008 / Windows Server 2008 R2 are validated to run on RHEL 5.4, using the KVM-based hypervisor.

In achieving this goal, Microsoft took the unusual step of releasing drivers under GPL.

So, what this means is that if you have a datacenter with a mix of Linux and Windows (as most Enterprises will), you can choose to virtualize Linux on Windows, or Windows on Linux. If you have active support agreements with both Microsoft and Red Hat, you will receive support on the combined solution from the vendor of the Guest operating system.

Here’s the diagram. Look, no vMware.SVVP diagram 350px

Now it is worth looking at the cost of the two scenarios shown above. With  RHEL Advanced Platform (v5+) the hypervisor is part of the O/S and as soon as you put any RHEL on the box, for any mixture of  Guests (up to 10 non-Red Hat Guests), the revenue to Red Hat is exactly the same. With the Windows Server Datacenter editions, as soon as you put any Windows Server on the box, for any mixture of  Guests, the licence revenue to Microsoft is almost exactly the same.  Given it’s recent anti-trust problems Microsoft is smart enough not to give Hyper-V away for free, but the incremental cost of using Hyper-V rather than some other hypervisor, is typically less than 3% of the base Windows Operating System.

Like most announcements between organizations with a large history of battling each other, this one is as interesting for what it doesn’t say as what it does say.  There is no mention of virtualization of Desktop Operating Systems.  VDI in the mould that vMware champions, with multiple Desktop OS instances running on a server farm, is not on Microsoft’s agenda at the moment. It still champions Terminal Services. Red Hat acquired VDI technology with Qumranet (who are very disparaging of Terminal Services) but, conveniently, it isn’t quite ready to be packaged with RHEL 5.4.

In many ways it’s a tribute to vMware that Microsoft has chosen to ally with Red Hat. The problem vMware poses to Microsoft is so great that Microsoft cannot fight alone. It has another side-effect – Microsoft is explicitly acknowledging that many datacenters will contain a mixture of Linux and Windows (although not at this stage vMware). This means that there will always be a market for a tools vendor who can make the two technologies work better together in a virtualized environment.  Microsoft is promoting standards and interoperability and a third-party ISV ecosystem. You may remember the old joke that up until Windows XP, the “interoperability” word wasn’t even in the Microsoft spell-check dictionary.  Times have changed.

There is a lot of vMware out there and over the next 3 year server refresh cycle we will find out exactly how “sticky” it is.  The newly-forged Red Hat & Microsoft Alliance will be pushing hard to tell you that you don’t need it.  Expect to see a lot of salesmen with spreadsheets explaining how a virtualised Microsoft/Red Hat data center is cost neutral, whereas a virtualized Microsoft/VMware/Red Hat data center incurs unnecessary extra costs.

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