Red Hat And Microsoft Enter 'Monumental' Linux-Azure Partnership, Creating Major New Opportunities For Channel

Once fierce data center rivals Microsoft and Red Hat are, at long last, bringing the most widely adopted Linux distribution among enterprises into the Azure cloud -- an accord revealed Wednesday that illustrates the historic transformation the cloud has forced upon the IT landscape.

The agreement will almost immediately create significant new opportunities for Microsoft-aligned solution providers to drive enterprise data center workloads into Azure, said Alex Brown, CEO of 10th Magnitude, an Azure Gold partner based in Chicago.

The previous lack of cooperation between the two software developers -- and lack of support for the Red Hat operating system in Azure -- stymied many deals for many channel businesses in the past, Brown told CRN.

[Related: Red Hat: 'Linux Has Won The Data Center]

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"The No. 1 blocker we've encountered in helping [enterprises] to transform to Azure has been their Red Hat workloads," Brown told CRN. "That blocker now has gone away."

In a blog post, Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Microsoft's cloud and enterprise group, wrote that the partnership was spurred by the major transformations the cloud is creating across the industry and will address customer challenges in building hybrid environments.

"By working with Red Hat, we will address common enterprise, ISV and developer needs for building, deploying and managing applications on Red Hat software across private and public clouds," Guthrie said.

Red Hat products will soon be available natively to Azure users, including Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), the JBoss middleware platform and RHEL applications.

In a few weeks, the two software developers will also colocate personnel to offer their joint enterprise customers integrated support "that is deeper and richer than any other public cloud offering," according to Guthrie.

The collaboration will extend Microsoft's .NET development platform to Red Hat products, including the OpenShift Platform-as-a-Service. And it will affect management platforms by integrating Red Hat CloudForms and Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager.

Whatever roadblock delayed the partnership that for years so many channel partners and customers had been clamoring for wasn't technical, or even related to entrenched opposition to Linux from the Windows developer.

Azure already supports several Linux distros: Canonical's Ubuntu, CentOS, CoreOS, Oracle Linux and SUSE Linux. About a quarter of Azure users are running some form of Linux, 10th Magnitude's Brown said.

"It was never a technical blocker," Brown said. "Red Hat runs just fine on Azure, has for two years. It's purely been a contractual blocker. But for an enterprise, that's as good as a technical blocker. If they're not going to get support, they're not going to go."

When 10th Magnitude engages in cloud transformation projects for large enterprise clients, it typically performs a cloud readiness assessment.

The first thing Brown did in the morning after hearing about the Microsoft-Red Hat partnership was pull the results of a recent cloud readiness test he had conducted on behalf of an enterprise customer.

Of the workloads that business wanted to move out of their on-premises data center and into Azure, 31 percent were running on Red Hat and were therefore blocked.

"Now we can go after a third of their data center," Brown said.

"It opens up a ton of opportunity now for [partners] to take advantage of Azure. Since that hybrid deployment opportunity is what Microsoft is pushing hard now, it’s a huge opportunity," Brown told CRN.

The fact that almost a quarter of Azure workloads run Linux even before a Red Hat deal -- let alone that so many more will because of the new pact -- is evidence of the drastic transformation at Microsoft and in the industry as a whole.

"If you didn't realize how open-source-friendly Microsoft and Azure have become, this will make you realize very fast," Brown said. "The cloud is changing everything."

Paul Cormier, president of products and technologies at Red Hat, wrote in a blog post that over the past decade, Windows and Red Hat Enterprise Linux have "emerged as mainstays in the data center" and divided them into "Red Hat shops" and "Microsoft shops."

"The idea of proprietary software companies' embracing open source was hard for many to imagine," as that dichotomy took hold, he blogged.

But modern data centers have become "heterogeneous environments that include solutions from both companies," Cormier said. Red Hat "heard from customers and partners that they wanted our solutions to work together -- with consistent APIs, frameworks, management, and platforms."

While the deal isn't Red Hat's first collaboration with Microsoft, it's by far the deepest, he said.

"In historical terms this is a monumental announcement," said Al Hilwa, program director of software development research at market researcher IDC.

But given the changing attitude of Microsoft in recent years, it was only a matter of time, Hilwa wrote in an email.

"This is a win for both companies and for the vast set of customers they have in common," Hilwa said.

While the war between Microsoft and Linux ended years ago, the Red Hat partnership "should act as an epilogue to the troubled narrative," Hilwa said.