A virtualisation deal struck on Monday between Microsoft and Red Hat shows the growing need for vendors to ensure customers can get cross-platform support for applications running in virtualised environments.
Under the terms of the deal, outlined in blog posts by Microsoft Senior Open Source Community Manager Peter Galli and Microsoft Virtualisation general manager Mike Neil, both companies will validate and offer customer support for each other's OSes on their virtualisation technologies.
Specifically, Microsoft will offer customer support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2 and 5.3 guests on all editions of Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V and Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008. For its part, Red Hat will support customers running Windows Server 2003 SP2, Windows 2000 Server SP4 and Windows Server 2008 guests on Red Hat Enterprise virtualisation technologies.
The companies also will offer cooperative technical support for customers running Windows Server on Red Hat Enterprise virtualisation and Red Hat Enterprise Linux on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V. Future versions of these products also will be validated under the company's agreement.
Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with open-source research firm RedMonk, said the deal underscores how even competitors have to cross party lines to support virtualisation, which is becoming an integral part of data centres that, more often than not, include both Windows- and Linux-based servers.
Virtualisation allows companies to cut costs in their IT environments by allowing more than one OS on a physical server by running software in virtualised containers. The technology allows a customer to run applications on both Linux and Windows on one piece of hardware.
O'Grady noted that support for enterprise applications still hinges on what OS an application is running on. "If you talk to application vendors, their support depends on an application platform," he said. "They'll support the app on Windows, on RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux), but that's as far as that goes."
Because software can be running on one virtualised OS -- RHEL, for instance -- that runs physically on a server running another OS, such as Windows, it's important for customers to know that both Red Hat and Microsoft will support them in such a scenario, O'Grady said.
"If I'm running RHEL virtualised on top of Windows, I need to make sure I'm supported commercially on every step of the way," he said. "Virtualisation pushes the boundaries of support and requires that vendors work well and effectively together."
There is no love lost between Microsoft and Red Hat, which have traded barbs for years as fierce competitors with fundamentally different views of how software should be developed and distributed. This may explain why the companies chose to unveil the pact -- their most significant and public partnership to date -- on Monday, a public holiday in the U.S. when many people had the day off from work. Companies typically will release news they hope will be overlooked by major news outlets on public holidays.
"I found the timing a little odd," O'Grady agreed. However, Microsoft spokesman Patrick O'Rourke in an e-mail said there was nothing odd about it. Since the deal was aimed at a worldwide audience, the timing "worked well for most other countries" outside the U.S. A Red Hat spokeswoman did not reply immediately to request for comment on the deal's timing.
Also curious about the deal is what it does not include: the exchange of intellectual property or "financial clauses" between the companies, except for "industry-standard certification/validation testing fees," according to Red Hat's press release.
No doubt Red Hat wanted to be sure to clarify that its deal with Microsoft is not the same as the one Microsoft struck with Linux distributor Novell two years ago, which did include exchange of IP and cash. At the time Red Hat executives said they were not interested in striking such a deal. In addition to ensuring interoperability between Novell SUSE Linux and Windows, the Novell deal also indemnified users of Novell's Linux against any claims of patent infringement for any Microsoft patents SUSE Linux might include.
IP is a particularly thorny issue between Microsoft and Red Hat, exacerbated not only by the Novell deal but also by claims made by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in May 2007 that Linux violates more than 235 patents Microsoft holds.
In response, Red Hat said its customers are protected by any patent claims by its Open Source Assurance Program, and many Linux proponents called Microsoft's claims an attempt to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) among customers who purchase open-source software in order to promote its own proprietary software.
O'Grady suggested it was probably Red Hat that lobbied hard against including IP-sharing in the deal to maintain its stance against the Novell deal and Microsoft's patent-infringement claims.
"This is a different deal than Novell signed," he said. "It's far less controversial."