How Red Hat could compete in the virtualization space

Now if Red Hat had actually decided to buy VMware, that would have been interesting.

Instead, the open source company has decided to take the one step that few others would bother to take at this point: to offer a complete line of its own virtualization products. Duplicating other vendors’ efforts, complicating choice and launching me-too offerings, Red Hat is coming late to a party that already has more than enough people on the dance floor.

If nothing else, Red Hat Virtualization Manager and its other tools will provide a virtualization option for open source purists. In the beginning their was VMware and Xensource, but since its acquisition by Citrix in 2007, the latter is looking more and more like a distant tagalong to Microsoft’s Hyper-V-based virtualization software. XenSource, obviously, was based on the Xen Hypervisor, but Red Hat, also an early Xen adopter, will transition to its own Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization hypervisor, the company said this week.

There was little mentioned in the Red Hat product release that sounded particularly different or exciting. There is a GUI to better see the virtual machines you’re managing. Policy enforcement, desktop options – all standard stuff. The only thing not there, really, is a compelling reason to choose Red Hat over the leading brands.

Well, Red Hat could ride on the virtue of simply being open source, but that isn’t usually enough of a business case for data centre strategists. There’s the virtue of being an industry alternative, but aren’t three existing alternatives enough? There’s the notion, if you’re already a Red Hat shop (and is anyone primarily a Red Hat shop in Canada? I’d love to talk to you) that you’d have a virtualization component to plug in that will work well.

Something seems missing, doesn’t it? One big hole I see is pricing. I realize it’s a time-honoured tradition in the software industry to trot out a new product and leave the bad news until much, much later, but imagine if Red Hat launched its virtualization offerings at a price point that was substantially less than that of VMware or Microsoft? “The recession shouldn’t back-burner your virtualization strategy,” the ads running in ComputerWorld Canada could have said. There are times when a company like Juniper sells switches because a potential customer doesn’t want to pay the Cisco premium. The same could happen for Red Hat vs. its rivals, if it’s prepared to go there. It’s starting out with those new to virtualization, which at this point probably means small and medium-sized companies anyway, so why not?

There could also have been an outstanding support packaged offered. A few years ago Oracle launched “Unbreakable Linux” with a promise to stand behind Red Hat better than Red Hat does. Red Hat should have stolen from this playbook and done the same thing with virtualization, perhaps doing away with actual virtualization products altogether. If Red Hat could prove it can really help IT managers succeed with virtualization in a way no other vendor could, they’ll be interested in the rest of its enterprise product line. Probably more interested than they will be in this stuff, anyway.

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