Health check: Red Hat - This year's model
By Richard Hillesley
Red Hat has long been the poster child of Linux and open source, the distribution that has been there since the beginning, grew up right, got all the luck, usually made the right decisions, and fetched up on top of the pile.
Staying at the top of the pile may present a different set of problems. Free and open source software has made its presence felt, the operating system has become increasingly commoditised, free software is rising up the stack, cloud computing and virtualisation are transforming the market for operating systems, and open source (in some form or another) is being adopted or proclaimed by many different companies.
In a changing market the operating system may not be enough. Red Hat has to stay ahead of the game, or play catch up where it can, which is why it has moved into middleware with JBoss and acquired Qumranet and its virtualisation software, KVM. JBoss, in conjunction with Linux and KVM, gives Red Hat perfect leverage into the cloud, which is where the operating system may be going. JBoss uses free software licenses, albeit the LGPL, and KVM has been included in the Linux kernel as of version 2.6.20s.
Imitators & clones
Even then, Red Hat has to stay on its toes. Its Linux and 'open source' competitors are not standing still, and are pushing Linux and open source further up the stack and putting their software on alternative versions of Linux, or in some cases, on clones of Red Hat's own enterprise-hardened versions of Linux such as CentOS. This can be done because Linux is free software, and Red Hat recognises this as both a pro and a con of its business model.
From Red Hat's point of view Red Hat wins because it provides a better quality of service. If you have a Red Hat subscription or you pay for the maintenance and upkeep of your JBoss installation, you get extra benefits, access to the original developers, instant response from Red Hat's security teams, rapid updates, and a better all-round experience, or so the theory goes. There is of course nothing to stop you trying Novell or CentOS, Oracle, SpringSource or any other service provider to see if they can provide a better model for supporting your software, or its near equivalent.
As a vendor there are two perspectives you can take on this. One is that the competition is bad. The other is that it puts you on your toes and makes you more competitive. Red Hat has remained relatively sanguine in the face of imitators and clones and sees advantage in the model it uses. Rivals may flinch, look for 'mixed source' solutions or make deals with antagonists, but Red Hat remains more or less true to its founding idea.