If there is one underlying theme of this year's Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) in San Francisco, it's that the cloud, in all of its forms, represents a very different way of consuming software than we've embraced in the past.
In fact, the cloud has largely displaced open source as the "next big thing" in the enterprise computing landscape, but it's important to recognize that open source provides much of the underlying software infrastructure for the majority of commercial public clouds.
In a press meeting Wednesday, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst and vice president of corporate development Mike Evans discussed how open source is at the basis of cloud computing and how an open architecture and layered approach to infrastructure is the best path forward.
According to Evans, if you choose open-source components to base your infrastructure on, you are way ahead of the game. Red Hat believes this to be true for a number of reasons, with an emphasis on the fact that in order for cloud computing to become mainstream software vendors will have to start certifying their products to work on-premise and in a cloud environment, typically running in virtual machines.
Red Hat's virtualization engine, based on the open-source KVM project, received a big endorsement earlier this week when IBM announced that it had based its latest cloud offerings for test and development on the Red Hat commercial product.
Virtualization is a critical component, and Red Hat considers it to be a component of the operating system similar to how TCP/IP. What was once a separate component is now part of the core.
Whitehurst told me that this is an important step in the evolution of KVM; as to date many users felt that the software wasn't quite ready for prime time. But with the vote of confidence from IBM and with NTT already on board, it looks like there is finally an alternative to VMware's dominance.
VMware, to its credit, not only defined the virtual machine space but took the market leadership unequivocally, despite significant penetration of the open-source Xen hypervisor, which is now part of Citrix.
Whitehurst believes that Xen became too fragmented and that many software vendors, Red Hat included, did the project a disservice by creating too many versions. Ultimately, Whitehurst feels that KVM has been successful through many iterations as it's had effectively one master code base.
Now that KVM has matured, Evans said that Red Hat is making an effort to start building an ecosystem around the product and will be helping start-ups interested in the open approach to virtualization.
One of the key points of the discussion was Red Hat's affirmation that the company will stick to its plan of an open, layered approach to infrastructure. The big question is how quickly Red Hat can ready a complete toolset necessary to manage a combined physical and virtual environment.
Considering the fact that the Red Hat organization tends to not lead a market but rather figure out what customers want and then commit, this may be a case where they need to get ahead of the curve and address what customers will want, even if they don't quite know it yet.