Like everyone else, Sunday night I got a surprise with the pre-announcement of IBM’s intent to acquire Red Hat (I might have seen it a little earlier than the rest of you, as a friend from IBM shared it as soon as it was public). I’ve been mulling this over and checking out the information being provided thus far, and have some early thoughts:
- No matter what, some people aren’t going to like this.
- Very much like Microsoft purchasing GitHub, you’ll see negative knee-jerk reactions.
- Early indicators are that it is good for everyone.
Of course, since the acquisition isn’t expected to close for about a year, all we have is early indications, but they do seem positive.
Fear for Open Source
IBM goes a long way to assuaging the instant fear that many will have. From the press release to the investor relations call, the company makes it very clear that Red Hat will operate on its own. IBM stops short of saying, “wholly owned subsidiary,” but is keeping all that makes Red Hat, well, Red Hat. That will likely change over time—it does for any acquisition—but for the near future, Red Hat’s strategies and values will continue. So those people who will inevitably equate this to the death of open source can be safely shushed or ignored.
Red Hat knows that there is an open source equivalent to everything it does, and as such it treats those willing to fork over money either for support or more polished products as if they could walk away tomorrow. There is nothing in any of the released documentation to suggest this will change. In fact, “keeping Red Hat’s strategy” specifically was mentioned to investors, and this world view informs all of their strategy. One Red Hat person I worked with years ago put it: “We need to give them a reason for paying us when they don’t have to. That’s where support and service come in.” In the short term, that does not appear to be changing.
IBM is right, the future of cloud is in two narratives: one of cloud portability and another of on-premises for stuff that just isn’t that portable. IBM plus Red Hat is in a unique position to serve those two markets and offer up DevOps toolsets based on standards that will spin up whatever, wherever. Between them, they work with every major public cloud vendor, support containers and have fingers deep into the private cloud space. If their predictions that workloads will continue to move toward on-demand is accurate, it will be difficult to find a better solution set than the two can offer together.
So Overall, it Looks Good
I was in discussions on several social media platforms over the course of Sunday evening about this, and the consensus seems to be that it could be far worse. If Red Hat were for sale, think through all the companies that would see benefit in owning Red Hat, and could afford the price tag IBM paid. There are not a lot that could be counted on to “Let Red Hat be Red Hat.” Over the long term, IBM can’t either, but that is simply business. In the short term, it is reasonable to expect that not much will change except Red Hat customers get pitched more IBM software and gear, while IBM offers Red Hat standard with their other offerings. Other potential purchasers would likely completely fold Red Hat into their business, thereby destroying what makes the company unique. So if Red Hat was going to be sold, the face the two companies are putting on it is the best we could hope for.
Ops Side Love
Red Hat has done a good job of integrating containers as they came along, and Ansible provides decent configuration support for a variety of deployment targets. Merging that with IBM’s cloud work should offer a streamlined DevOps pipeline that can handle whatever target you want it to configure. Oh, certainly there will be speed bumps along the way—we do live in a time of change, which brings them along—but portability plus programmed configurability will (as IBM has hinted) equate to prequalified stacks that can then be dropped into deployment toolchains.
Not too Long to Wait
While the official merger will not be consummated until late next year, expect to see the two organizations use their longstanding partnership to begin exploring cross-company cooperation before that. We should see the first fruits of this arrangement relatively quickly, and unless Red Hat’s investors find some reason to vote down a HUGE raise of their per-share stock value, expect that the cooperation will continue to ramp up until the acquisition is completed.
If Red Hat Stays the Same…
Given that IBM has said Red Hat would stay the same for the foreseeable future, that means all you are doing with the company can keep going, and you can pick and choose which of the partnership options that are bound to come along pre-completion you wish to take advantage of. That’s a benefit to the customer. So grab what you like and keep making your DevOps environment better.