Red Hat Unveils Open Source Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Offering

Red Hat on Thursday jumped into the hyper-converged infrastructure market with the introduction of what it's calling the first open source hyper-converged infrastructure software stack.

The new stack, called Red Hat Hyperconverged Infrastructure, combines four of the company's technologies into an integrated offering targeting cloud deployments, said Ross Turk, director of product marketing for the Raleigh, N.C.-based cloud and virtualization technology vendor.

The components include Red Hat Virtualization, the company's hypervisor based on open source KVM technology; Red Hat Gluster storage, a scale-out file system based on the GlusterFS project; the Red Hat Enterprise Linux, or RHEL, operating system; and the Red Hat Ansible automation platform and deployment framework.

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"RHEL is a real differentiator for us, Turk told CRN. "This means the entire stack can be supported by a single vendor."

The Red Hat Hyperconverged Infrastructure software stack targets customers looking to simplify their data center infrastructures, he said.

"It's for customers who scale compute and storage separately in large data centers, but who often like to bring a server and storage stack into small or remote offices," he said. "Our goal is to make this as small a footprint as possible."

The development of Red Hat Hyperconverged Infrastructure stems from a handful of large customers in the oil and gas, retail, government, and military verticals, and will be initially available only via direct channels to such customers, Turk said.

"The channel is a wider focus for us," he said. "But this is a new product. With new products like this, we generally focus on the top five direct customers, mainly those who ask for the product. We're going into general availability now. And when it becomes available to channel partners, it will already be ready and in the market."

Turk was unable to say when Red Hat Hyperconverged Infrastructure would be available to channel partners.

Turk said Red Hat Hyperconverged Infrastructure will compete in the same space as such vendors as Nutanix or SimpliVity, which was recently acquired by Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. However, he said, those vendors are targeting customers with a one-stop solution.

"Red Hat Hyperconverged Infrastructure is for customers who already have a virtualized data center, but who want a smaller, more condensed version of the Red Hat stack that they are already using," Turk said.

Red Hat Hyperconverged Infrastructure can be deployed on customers' industry-standard servers, and Red Hat will initially launch with guidelines on suitable types of servers, Turk said. "As we gain more experience, we will offer reference architectures, and later may go with bundled solutions," he said.

Red Hat Hyperconverged Infrastructure at a high level is a good idea, but a few years late, said one large Red Hat solution provider.

The solution provider, who declined to be identified because of a close relationship with Red Hat, told CRN the vendor could initially face a couple of issues in the rollout of Red Hat Hyperconverged Infrastructure.

First, the solution provider said, Red Hat faces difficulties with Red Hat Virtualization because the company is essentially trying to sell KVM, which is available from open source. "Red Hat should have offered a solution combining KVM with RHEL," the solution provider said. "Customers have grown tired of VMware, and are trying to move away from it. Nutanix has its own hypervisor."

The second issue is that few customers have deployed the Red Hat Gluster storage technology. And third, the solution provider said, Red Hat assumes Ansible is the answer to everything. "They assume if something is packaged with Ansible, it will get into markets it hadn't gotten into before," the solution provider said. "Ansible is a great solution. But it doesn't solve every issue."

The solution provider also said it's a mistake for Red Hat to go into general availability with Red Hat Hyperconverged Infrastructure without getting channel partners on board, something the company has done with other releases in the past, including Open Stack.

"Partners will not get exposed to it if they can't get it," the solution provider said. "It's probably the most annoying thing about being a Red Hat partner."

Irshad Raihan, manager of product marketing for Red Hat storage, understands the annoyance.

Raihan told CRN that Red Hat Hyperconverged Infrastructure is really more of a first-generation product that shows where Red Hat is heading in terms of hyper-converged infrastructure.

"We take a crawl-walk-run approach with new products," he said. "So we are going direct first. But we often see channel partners come to us right away looking to start with the new products."

Raihan admitted that Red Hat could indeed be seen as late to this market. "Hyper-converged infrastructure is part of a broadening of the market," he said. "Three years late is fair to say."

However, Raihan said, this is a fairly mature market. "There's need for a vendor like us to provide a new solution," he said. "Lots of vendors are trying to force their hardware on customers. We are totally software-defined. And there are other software-defined offerings as well. But none are open source."

Raihan said he does not agree that Red Hat Virtualization and Red Hat Gluster storage are not being sold, despite the fact that customers can either get the products from Red Hat with the company's support or get the same functionality at no cost via open source but then be responsible for supporting it themselves.

"It's the nature of open source," he said. "But Red Hat brings a lot of hardening and security features from its RHEL lineage. So for some customers, it makes sense for all that support. Other customers say they have the skills."

Five years ago, Red Hat Gluster storage was a difficult sale because of the lack of functionality, but today the product has feature-parity with the best storage offerings in the market, Raihan said.

"And remember, Red Hat Hyperconverged Infrastructure is a truly integrated solution," he said. "We're not selling Red Hat Virtualization and Gluster separately."