Red Hat's $175M Inktank Buy Expands Open Source Storage Reach With Ceph

Red Hat on Wednesday said it plans to acquire Inktank, the developer of the Ceph open source storage solution, as a way to make the company the leading provider of open source storage.

This is the second storage acquisition for Red Hat, which in late 2011 purchased Gluster, developer of the GlusterFS scale-out NAS file system.

Inktank in 2010 came out of stealth mode to provide enterprise-level support for customers looking to use the open source Ceph technology to build scalable storage infrastructures.

[Related: CRN Exclusive Q&A: Former VCE VP On Why He Jumped To Red Hat]

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Ceph is an open-source storage technology that provides object, block and file storage in a single file system for unified storage. It was originally developed as a Ph.D. project at the University of California, Santa Cruz, by Sage Weil, the founder and CTO of Los Angeles-based Inktank, to solve issues related to scaling metadata in high-performance computing applications.

Both Ceph and GlusterFS provide open source, software-based scale-out storage solutions that can be run on commodity servers, and provide data replication, automatic self-heal and nondisruptive upgrades.

However, Red Hat said Wednesday that Inktank provides a mature block interface while Gluster has a more mature file system interface. Also, while Inktank has developed OpenStack integration for Ceph, Gluster features traditional web storage integration, the company said.

The acquisition of Inktank is a good move for Red Hat, said Bradley Brodkin, president and CEO of HighVail Systems, a Toronto-based solution provider and a member of Red Hat's partner council.

Brodkin said that, as far as he can tell, Ceph is more of a de-facto storage solution for OpenStack than GlusterFS.

"Red Hat claims it will let GlusterFS and Ceph co-exist, and there is a fit for both," he said. "GlusterFS does scale-out file only, while Ceph allows scale-out and scale-up block and file storage."

GlusterFS is robust, and exists in a lot of the biggest web infrastructures, Brodkin said. Red Hat, however, has been having trouble getting it off the ground because users, particularly in education and research, love the free open source GlusterFS software and have been slow to want to pay for GlusterFS integration and support from Red Hat, he said.

As Red Hat integrates Ceph into Red Hat Enterprise Linux, it will have a much more powerful offering, Brodkin said.

He compared Red Hat's integration of multiple technologies to how Sun Microsystems used to keep its entire product offering focused on Solaris, he said.

NEXT: Red Hat To Focus On Open Source Storage With Software-Defined Flavor

"Back in the day, we used to say all of Sun's wood was behind a single arrowhead," Brodkin said. "Red Hat has taken that stance. It's sometimes slow to change, but with all its moves in the last 18 months, it's been doing everything right. There's tremendous interest in what Red Hat is doing."

Brian Stevens, executive vice president and CTO of Red Hat, told CRN on Wednesday that software-defined storage technologies that provide storage functionality on commodity hardware is still in the early stage of development, and that his company is moving in this direction with its open source storage technologies.

The fact that the free open source GlusterFS technology is more popular in terms of users than the Red Hat version is not an issue, Stevens said.

"As we invest in open source communities, it's important to get users as interested as much as developers," he said. "We want to get the technology out to millions, and monetize hundreds of thousands."

It is the same with Ceph, which has a massive community of users, Stevens said.

"We couldn't be happier to have a broader play in software-defined storage with both GlusterFS and Ceph," he said. "Otherwise, there's only one answer to every type of workload. But customers are hosting virtual machines, big data, Swift-compatible interfaces for OpenStack and more. Now we're able to go to a customer, look at their use cases, and find the right technology to solve their problems."

Weil on Wednesday told CRN that Inktank agreed to be acquired by Red Hat because that company is one of the few acquirers that understand open source and open source communities. "It's a good exit for us," he said.

Red Hat brings new resources to accelerate the development of Ceph as well as to bring it to a global market through the reach of its Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform, Weil said.

Weil said he still doesn't know what his new title at Red Hat will be. "But I'll definitely be a part of Red Hat," he said. "My general commitment is to make Ceph a ubiquitous open storage platform."