A year or two ago, the storm in a teacup of the day was news that Red Hat, one of the largest technology vendors built off the back of open-source technologies, was turning against its one-time BFF Mirantis.
For those unaware of the situation, Mirantis is a vendor that focuses entirely on the OpenStack cloud computing operating system. Wishing to ensure that it had a part to play in emergent open-source initiatives, a few years ago Red Hat made a strategic investment into Mirantis, and at the time indications were that Red Hat might be sizing up the fast-growing company for a future acquisition.
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Everything seemed to progress swimmingly: Mirantis, long appreciated by the tech media as one of the more entertaining of vendors due in part to the huge number of arguments that seemed to occur around it, seemed to nicely balance its time between generating high-profile press articles and executing a service-based business. Red Hat kept on doing what Red Hat does, namely making squillions of dollars offering service on the back of open-source technologies.
And then in a terse war of words, Red Hat said it would no longer offer support to customers that used a non-Red Hat OpenStack distribution on top of its Linux product, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). This included Mirantis' distribution. A situation that was made all the worse given the fact that despite being an investor in Mirantis, Red Hat went out and acquired Mirantis competitor eNovance. Things settled down but very much at arms length; Red Hat did not participate in Mirantis future funding rounds.
Interestingly, and something of an aside, in an Gigaom article a couple of years ago, we saw some more detail about the Mirantis/Red Hat falling out. Red Hat's CTO at the time, Paul Cormier, told the reporter:
“We took an investment in Mirantis under the pretense that was going to be a consulting [partnership]. We were looking for a consulting partner, and they decided to get into the product space. That’s their prerogative. So we went out and got a better consulting partner, eNovance. They’ve got really interesting management technologies that we’re integrating into our products now.”
To add some color, Mirantis' then CEO, Adrian Ionel, told the same reporter a different story:
“There is a contract on the books that had our software and product story as part of the agreement with Red Hat, that Red Hat signed as part of the investment. We signed an alliance agreement at the time to integrate our product story with theirs. They didn’t honor it. Red Hat asked us to completely lock ourselves into their operating system as a condition for honoring the agreement. ... They changed their position from saying, ‘Let’s make Red Hat a first-class citizen on par with everybody else,’ and they wanted to change it to be the only choice. After the deal, Red Hat came back, Paul specifically, and he said Red Hat is the only citizen, not a first-class citizen.”
Oh my, how complicated. Luckily, that complexity would seem to be moot. Things have settled down and, as should be the way, customers are voting with their contracts. Most notably the Volkswagen group, which only a few months ago, and despite the fact that Red Hat purportedly wasn't recognizing the choice, decided to use Mirantis' OpenStack on top of RHEL anyway.
Mirantis and SUSE join forces
That takes us through to today when Mirantis and Linux vendor SUSE have announced a joint collaboration to offer Mirantis' OpenStack customers support for all flavors of enterprise Linux. That includes SUSE (obviously) via a new technical collaboration project, the community distribution CentOS and, most interestingly, RHEL. Commenting on the decision, Mirantis' co-founder and CMO stated, possibly even with a straight face:
"Many of our larger customers run two or three different Linux flavors. Now OpenStack users can get support for their major Linux distributions in one place from Mirantis."
Not to be outdone, SUSE's Michael Miller took a pragmatic line, one that will also make Red Hat wince:
"At SUSE, we believe in openness and choice for our customers and our partners."
A deftly aimed kick in Red Hat's general direction perchance?
A storm (and press release) in a teacup? In some ways, yes. The fact of the matter is customers are pragmatic, and as the Volkswagen case shows, they'll do what they need to.
There is also another angle here, and that is one of a strategic blunder by Red Hat. They've grown large and somewhat used to throwing their weight around and dictating terms to partners, and they figured they could do the same thing with Mirantis. But Mirantis plays hardball and has continued to prosper from calling Red Hat's bluff and standing up to the company. It's a crash course in strategy, and, in this case at least, Mirantis made all the right moves.
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