Containers drive evolution of Red Hat / Microsoft collaboration

Microsoft Corp. and Red Hat Inc. continue to expand their collaboration that dates back to 2009 with new initiatives aimed at helping enterprises to more easily adopt containers.

Last month the enterprise software giants announced native support for Windows Server containers on Red Hat OpenShift, Red Hat OpenShift Dedicated on Microsoft Azure, and SQL Server on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Red Hat OpenShift. Michael Ferris, Red Hat’s VP, technical business development and business architecture, said the interoperability is a natural extension of the of the two companies’ collaboration that was spurred by virtualization, and the realization Red Hat customers were also deploying Micrsoft technologies for some of their workloads.

Michael Ferris, Red Hat’s VP, technical business development and business architecture

The initial focus of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) was on expanding the Unix market with something more affordable, said Ferris, who’s been with the company for 17 years. “As virtualization emerged we noted our customer base we had been growing for many years were not only very focused on virtualizing Linux, but also Windows.” This led to a cross-vendor arrangement in 2009 where Microsoft guests could be certified on Red Hat’s virtualization platform, and RHEL guests on Microsoft Hyper-V.

From there, cloud computing has pushed the relationship between the two companies further, he said. Enterprise customers are increasingly taking a hybrid approach that spans on and off-premise, including Microsoft’s public cloud, Azure, and once again, Red Hat finds itself sharing joint customers that has led to an integrate support arrangement, said Ferris.

The alignment of container strategies is the next logical step in collaboration for Red Hat and Microsoft, as enterprises see the benefit in using containerized applications to run their mission-critical workloads, but most IT organizations are not standardized on a single infrastructure stack. Windows Server containers will be natively supported on Red Hat OpenShift, the company’s Kubernetes-based container application platform, which in turn will be the first container application platform built from the open source Kubernetes project to support both Linux and Windows container workloads in a single platform across the multiple environments of the hybrid cloud.

“Red Hat is applying its core principles to the containerization movement,” Ferris said. Containers are dependent on the operating system. “You don’t have container unless it includes pieces of the operating system. “Containers are Linux, and Linux is Red Hat.”
Ferris said it has taken time for use cases to emerge for containers, while at the same time they need the enterprise-level support to make adoption easer. That means a consistent source of updates to the operating systems such as RHEL and the appropriate relationships with hardware vendors, he said. “Microsoft is the doing the same thing with their operating system. As they build windows containers, they’re going to address the same problems for Windows users.”

In the early days of Red Hat, the conversation was often around the open source community vs. proprietary vendors, but in recent years, Microsoft has opened up significantly, having open sourced the .Net core in 2015 and its strategy for the cloud has been open, yet secure one for hybrid enterprises, in acknowledgment that it must live where its customers are. Red Hat has the availability of .NET Core 2.0 as a container in OpenShift, and in the coming months, the two companies plan to bring SQL Server for Linux to Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Red Hat OpenShift.

Ultimately, said Ferris said the containerization movement has mirrored that of the Linux Kernal in the innovation has been done within the open source community and then scaled up by larger, enterprise players such as Red Hat.

Gary Chen, IDC’s research manager for software defined compute, sees the joint announcement between the long-time competitors demonstrates that many customers have both Red Hat and Microsoft technologies. “Making them both work together where it makes sense is the right thing to do for customers.” Integrated platforms such as OpenShift and AzureStack are playing at a higher level than any kind of operating system war. “To make a successful cloud application platform or private cloud, it needs to support all the operating systems and technologies that customers want to use,” he said. “Customers don’t want a Linux only or a Windows only cloud.”

Open source has been the driving factor behind container adoption, said Chen, as Docker, the company and project that started the modern container craze, is open source and started off on Linux. And although Windows now supports containers, Linux is still predominant in containers today. “If you look at the rest of the ecosystem, such as Kubernetes and Mesos, most are open source,” he said. “The CNCF is emerging as the place that has collected a lot of key technologies directly or indirectly related to containers and is an open source foundation, so the container market and movement is quite different than many past technology transformations in that is very dominated by open source technologies.”

Chen said it’s important that larger, established companies have containers as part of their offerings, not just startups or container-only focused companies. “Containers have already established themselves as the infrastructure for next generation apps. So just like today where virtual machines are standard fare, containers will be the standard for future apps and it will be absolutely ubiquitous.”

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Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has written thousands of words for print and pixel in publications across North America. His areas of interest and expertise include software, enterprise and networking technology, memory systems, green energy, sustainable transportation, and research and education. His articles have been published by EE Times, SolarEnergy.Net, Network Computing, InformationWeek, Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News, Toronto Business Times and the Ottawa Citizen, among others.

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