IBM's Red Hat gobble: Storage will be a test of Big Blue's commitment to open-source software

Bringing home the bacon

Comment So we all know by now that IBM is buying Red Hat for $34bn – the largest software acquisition ever. Of course, that includes all Red Hat's storage products.

There are the two big ones, Red Hat Ceph (object storage with file and block access) and Red Hat Gluster (Scale-out NAS).

Then there are the stragglers – the attempt at hyperconverged infrastructure, Red Hat HCI, StorageOne, and Red Hat OpenShift Container Storage (the renamed Container-Native Storage).

These are all software-defined storage products, following the company's mantra that "software is eating the world".

However, compared to RHEL, Red Hat's storage has not set the world on fire. Jim Whitehurst, president and CEO, said in the acquired firm's statement: "If software is eating the world – and with digital transformation occurring across industries, it truly is – open source is the key ingredient."

Not in storage it isn't. Let's list the proprietary storage companies that Red Hat has put out of business... Right, none. Many have failed but not due to open-source storage software eating their lunch.

Whitehurst continued: "Open source is the default choice for modern IT solutions." Sorry, Jim, but again, not for storage, not by a long chalk.

And certainly not for IBM storage software. The default choice is proprietary storage software, and IBM needs to sell more of that because its storage hardware revenues are declining.

A business selling both proprietary and open-source storage products is a business with competing products and philosophies.

Red Hat is going to operate as a business unit within IBM's Hybrid Cloud team, which means that Red Hat storage will be separate from IBM's. Big Blue intends to maintain Red Hat's headquarters, facilities, brands and practices.

In other words, IBM's proprietary storage software will still effectively see Red Hat software as competition. If IBM's direct sales force is to effectively sell both types of storage, there will have to be some very inventive compensation schemes – ditto channel partners selling both types of storage software.

Fortunately, there's not much overlap between the two product sets, and IBM can munch on both its proprietary and open-source cakes.

Theoretically, at least, Big Blue now has the noble exit option for underperforming storage products – taking the moral high ground and giving them to Red Hat to open-source.

The test of IBM's commitment to open source will be what it does with its proprietary Spectrum-branded products. If it moves any to Red Hat then it is all-in, in the same way a pig is committed in a bacon-and-egg breakfast*.

But if it does not, it would signal the attitude of the chicken to your two sunny-sides in your fry-up – a hen can always lay another egg.

IBM is spending an eye-watering sum. Storage is a relatively small part of Red Hat's portfolio and there is little time pressure. El Reg will monitor proceedings and report back if tension between IBM's proprietary and open-source storage products and philosophies materialise. ®

* In the old joke about the difference the chicken and the pig's outlook on a bacon-and-egg breakfast, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.

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