Red Hat Closes Deal For Ansible, Expanding Its DevOps Cred

Red Hat on Friday closed a deal to acquire Ansible, one of a handful of configuration platforms driving the shift to DevOps-style management of IT infrastructure.

Ansible will enhance a relatively new business unit at Red Hat that's strategically focused on cloud management solutions, but the product will keep its name and unique identity, Joe Fitzgerald, vice president of management at Red Hat, told CRN.

Red Hat did not disclose how much it paid for the startup or other financial details, but widely circulated reports peg the transaction at north of $100 million.

[Related: Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst: Open Source Market Is 'Mind-Bending']

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"We're really trying to move to frictionless IT," Fitzgerald told CRN. "Management tools have always been expensive and complex. And they still are."

Ansible will complement Red Hat's portfolio of cloud management assets -- including CloudForms and Satellite -- that are seeking to address that need in the market, he said.

"As we work with customers trying to deploy OpenStack, or containers, or do hybrid cloud stuff, what we find is there's still a lot of friction in their management and automation area," Fitzgerald told CRN.

And with Ansible under the roof of the world's largest open-source software vendor, the startup can jump warp speed into what would have been the next stage of its evolution -- going out and building channels to expand market reach.

"We have global channels, we're already there. So we can take a very strong technology and leverage Red Hat's reach," Fitzgerald said. "We hope to enable our partners, all kinds of partners, and sell it directly as well."

In contemplating an acquisition in the DevOps space, Red Hat assessed other configuration management products, he said. It ultimately decided Ansible offered the right technology, complemented by other unique factors that would lend a natural fit to the union.

For starters, Ansible has its headquarters in Durham, N.C., a neighbor of Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat. And the startup is staffed by several former Red Hat employees, including CEO Said Ziouani, who spent years at Red Hat as a sales executive.

"So there's lot of cultural synergy," Fitzgerald said.

But beyond close interpersonal and geographic ties, there were two high-level aspects of Ansible's software that made the company an appealing acquisition target.

First, "their playbooks are in the English language," Fitzgerald told CRN. "You don't need to be a programmer to do their automation. It democratizes automation."

Another aspect Red Hat found attractive was that Ansible's automation tools are agentless -- nodes in a cloud cluster don't need to be running background software to connect with controlling machines.

Many of Ansible's competitors deploy agents onto all servers managed by their software, he said.

"Well, that sort of introduces friction right up front," Fitzgerald said of the agents. "You have to configure, manage and track those. It adds another burden in management when you're trying to go the other way."

Another benefit: Ansible is used internally at Red Hat, and has already been integrated with Red Hat Enterprise Linux, OpenShift -- Red Hat's Platform-as-a-Service offering -- and Red Hat's OpenStack distribution.

Red Hat leaders were also impressed with the traction Ansible has achieved with its open-source community.

"They rang a lot of bells for us," especially with the software's capabilities in deploying and managing OpenStack clouds, containers, network automation and DevOps configuration, Fitzgerald said.

Red Hat will work with its large channel of system integrators to incorporate Ansible into their portfolios, and has already talked to big customers that are trending toward becoming Ansible customers, Fitzgerald said, a process Red Hat can accelerate.

"It was the right time for Red Hat and Ansible," Fitzgerald told CRN.