IBM’s Jim Whitehurst On Why Red Hat Wins vs. VMware, HPE

Red Hat’s years of experience delivering open source to the enterprise, and the cloud-native methodologies of its OpenShift platform, give the open source leader and parent IBM a leg-up in the rapidly growing hybrid cloud market, Whitehurst says at The Channel Company’s Best of Breed conference.


IBM President James Whitehurst isn’t worried about enterprise stalwarts VMware and Hewlett Packard Enterprise challenging IBM subsidiary Red Hat, the company he led until recently, in the all-important Kubernetes market.

As HPE and VMware, both IBM partners on some fronts, look to advance new Kubernetes platforms, they’re going to come up against challenges in delivering open source software that Red Hat long-ago mastered, Whitehurst said in an interview at the Best of Breed (BoB) Virtual Series, a channel thought leadership conference hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company.

On the container battleground, Whitehurst is confident Red Hat, with its years of expertise delivering open source to the enterprise and focus on supporting cloud-native methodology through its OpenShift platform, has a well-earned advantage, he said in a Zoom discussion with The Channel Company’s Executive Chairman Robert Faletra and Editor News Steven Burke.

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[Related: IBM President James Whitehurst Talks Red Hat With IBM Partners]

“Dell is trying to make this next-generation cloud-native an extension of VMware and vSphere,” Whitehurst said, referring to vSphere 7, the first release of the industry’s leading virtualization platform to incorporate container orchestration technology.

That approach to delivering Kubernetes is going against the grain of what a lot of customers want, he said.

“The entire operating model for how you build and run applications for a virtual machine is fundamentally different than how you do it in a more cloud-native, stateless way,” he told BoB attendees.

The kind of stateful workloads associated with virtual machines create management and back-up issues that many enterprises look to abandon when adopting containerized infrastructure and modern architectures, he said.

“It’s not that you can’t plug the technology in,” Whitehurst said. “VMware is showing you can. But if you’re not changing the whole operating model, you’re not getting the value out of it.”

Whitehurst knows VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger well and respects the strategy his team has crafted. But the VMware solution in many ways “impedes your ability to really move to the new world,” he said.

Partners take a risk going in that direction, he said.

“I’m not saying there’s not great business to do with VMware,” Whitehurst said. But as enterprises look to accelerate development efforts with DevOps methodology and the ability to burst into cloud, those approaches “don’t really fit in that old-world model.”

VMware declined to comment on what Whitehurst said at BoB.

HPE is another recent challenger to the market with Ezmeral, a platform packaging Kubernetes with machine learning technology acquired through BlueData and a file system from MapR.

Whitehurst said he’s read up on Ezmeral, and the platform “sounds quite compelling.”

“The problem with that,” he said, “is the capability of taking open source software and delivering an enterprise-grade product and supporting that over a long period of time is difficult.”

Open source projects are always changing—for example, Linux gets patched roughly ten times a day.

“If you haven’t built the engineering capabilities in those projects to be able to take a version and support it through a lifecycle, you run into all kinds of support and stability issues,” he said.

It’s the reason Red Hat is always among the two largest contributors to all major projects underlying its products; Red Hat leads engineering efforts around Linux and Kubernetes to better support those technologies over the long run.

“The technology roadmap is littered with people who say, oh, I’m going to take this open source stuff and I have support people who get it,” Whitehurst said. “But they haven’t brought in large teams that are upstream contributors engaged in those projects. They’ve never been successful.”

HPE pushed back on Whitehurst’s suggestions about its open source capabilities.

HPE has deep experience with taking open-source projects and turning them into compelling enterprise products as evidenced by the HPE Ezmeral Container Platform and HPE Ezmeral Data Fabric, both built on our acquisitions of Blue Data and MapR, companies whose products were built after spending 15-plus combined years living in the open-source community,” Kumar Sreekanti, CTO and Head of Software for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, told CRN.

“Combining these open source projects with HPE software IP with the overall footprint and enterprise expertise from HPE, we deliver an unmatched, enterprise-grade offering to organizations that want to leverage open source in a true production manner,” Sreekanti said.

Bradley Brodkin, CEO of HighVail Systems, a longtime Red Hat partner based in Toronto, told CRN that the credibility of Whitehurst’s claims are backed up by Red Hat Enterprise Linux, the underlying platform for most of today’s enterprise traffic, as well as Red Hat Ansible, a popular infrastructure automation tool.

“When you think open source and hybrid cloud, Red Hat will always be a part of the conversation and IBM’s acquisition of them just reinforces that position,” Brodkin told CRN.

But VMware, another HighVail partner, also has an open source legacy, and while it has often converted those technologies into proprietary offerings in recent years, “that’s changing too,” Brodkin said.

“Jim is a great storyteller and probably has the most credible story to tell, but that doesn’t mean the others don’t have a good offering as well,” Brodkin added.