Mirantis Sidesteps Red Hat Resistance To Rival OpenStack Software Running On Its Dominant Linux, Red Hat Calls Foul

For a pure-play OpenStack software vendor like Mirantis, not being able to deploy your cloud-building software on servers running the world's most-popular distribution of the Linux operating system terribly limits your addressable market.

That's why Mirantis has been trying for years to strike a partnership with Red Hat, which was an early strategic investor in Mirantis. But the open-source software giant offers its own OpenStack distribution—and maintains that version is the only one precisely engineered for integration with its operating system.

Mirantis' repeated attempts to reach an agreement to certify and support its product to run on Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) have all fizzled.

[Related: CRN Exclusive: Red Hat Channel Chief On Company's Gradual Move To Tear Down Silos Governing Partner Investments]

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Having failed to convince Red Hat to collaborate, Mirantis, headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., opted for a different tack. And not surprisingly, Red Hat is calling foul.

On Tuesday, at OpenStack Days: Silicon Valley, Mirantis announced a partnership with another Linux vendor intended to bypass Red Hat's roadblock to its operating system.

The deal taps SUSE, the German open-source software company, to support RHEL implementations run by Mirantis customers, said Boris Renski, Mirantis' co-founder and chief marketing officer.

And that kind of enterprise support relationship, as far as Mirantis is concerned, is all the company needs to begin selling its OpenStack distribution to Red Hat's massive user base, Renski told CRN.

Red Hat doesn't see it that way.

What Mirantis and SUSE are doing—both in combining the products and by offering third-party support—could create technical hazards that place customers in jeopardy, according to Margaret Dawson, senior director of product marketing at Red Hat.

"We aren't clear what kind of support Mirantis and SUSE can claim to provide for another company's offerings. But this makes no sense to us and it would certainly be confusing and potentially dangerous for customers," Dawson told CRN via email.

Accusations of imposed vendor lock-in have been leveled at Red Hat almost since it first joined the OpenStack community. The Raleigh, N.C.-based company has always claimed it co-engineers its server and cloud operating systems and the two can't be safely sundered.

"Breaking the OS and OpenStack pieces apart would break our enterprise stability, support and lifecycle, as well as compromise the ecosystem," Dawson said.

But Mirantis executives have long argued that Red Hat is severely overstating the technological concerns. The only real obstacle is technical support, Renski said, and SUSE can deliver that.

The German software company already offers what it calls Expanded Linux Support—a package that SUSE developed to lure Red Hat customers by easing their transition to SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. Under that program, SUSE complements support for servers running its own distribution of Linux with those still running RHEL and CentOS.

Under the deal, Mirantis will offload level 3 support to SUSE. Mirantis can then deploy a fully supported infrastructure stack to customers, giving them the option to choose their host operating system.

Acting without Red Hat's imprimatur was appropriate because Red Hat takes a position counter to industry norms, Renski said. And Mirantis believes Red Hat's resistance stems almost entirely from its desire to protect RHEL as a channel for its own OpenStack distribution.

Other vendors selling both Linux and OpenStack—including Oracle, SUSE and Canonical—don't restrict rival OpenStack distributions from running atop their Linux products. Those companies opt to make their operating systems open to third-party cloud implementations.

But OpenStack vendors can't afford to just ignore Red Hat, Renski said, considering that it has more than 60 percent of Linux market share in the enterprise.

"So we do see a lot of customers that use RHEL, but want to use Mirantis Openstack," Renski said, citing Volkswagon as one customer that falls into that category.

Dawson told CRN that Red Hat is not resistant to collaboration as a general principle—its Linux and OpenStack products have a large and growing ecosystem of other vendors, channel partners and telecommunications service providers.

But SUSE supporting Red Hat's Linux without authorization just isn't appropriate, she said.

"Unless there is a specific agreement between two companies, one vendor would never support another vendor’s product," Dawson said.

Red Hat integrates its own OpenStack with RHEL "to ensure the level of security, reliability, stability and support enjoyed in the RHEL ecosystem," she said.

"Mirantis OpenStack is not a certified platform for deployment of Red Hat Enterprise Linux," she said, and Red Hat doesn't endorse its use.

Red Hat subscriptions deliver continuous integration, updates and support for its platforms that are digitally signed. When components are replaced by a third-party, Red Hat believes engineering integrity has been compromised to the point the deployment is no longer considered one of its products, Dawson said.

But Renski said the engineering argument is specious.

"There are some high-level, easy-to-solve technology nuances that enable one to support third-party OpenStack distros on top of your Linux distro," Renski said. "It's an easy-to-overcome technology complication."

"We dove into this issue very deep, including with Red Hat," Renski said. Red Hat's position is all about bundling OpenStack with RHEL, just like Microsoft once did to push Internet Explorer into the market through Windows.

Another Mirantis partner, Canonical, doesn't take that kind of stance, and together the two companies work together on several large accounts, including a multi-cluster deployment for AT&T.

"We've been collaborating with [Canonical's] Ubuntu [Linux] for a while, collaborating with Oracle," Renski said. "Now we've completed the portfolio of Linux distros that we can have a support story for our customers."