Reports of Dell’s decision to deliver Ubuntu-powered cloud infrastructure should motivate readers to evaluate Ubuntu as an alternative to Red Hat in the cloud.

Red Hat still stuck in cloud positioning mode:
Just two months ago I wrote about challenges with Red Hat’s Cloud strategy as being focused on retaining existing customers, not attracting new customers. Red Hat has since attempted to paint itself as the leader for cloud software, singling out VMware as its primary competitor going forward. However, it’s important to note that the new positioning doesn’t address the barrier to entry that I noted in my previous post.

InfoWorld blogger David Linthicum highlights an issue that Red Hat and other software vendors are facing as they consider cloud computing offerings and price points. David writes:

For instance, if you’re selling cloud storage at 15 cents per gigabyte per month, but your customers end up spending $1 per gigabyte per month for your storage box offering, how do you suspect your customers to react?

David’s example is focused on storage, but equally applies to the per hour cost of running an operating system, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), on a public cloud versus in your data center.

Cloud pricing encourages customers to “price check” the yearly cost of a traditional software license or subscription versus the pay-per-usage cloud price for the equivalent software.

Ubuntu’s cloud growth:
Stemming from Canonical’s relatively modest customer base, especially outside of cloud deployments, the vendor behind Ubuntu doesn’t have to worry about existing customers doing a similar price comparison across pay-per-usage and traditional support subscriptions. This is definitely an advantage for Canonical over Red Hat.

Ubuntu’s usage on Amazon EC2 and Canonical’s claim of 12,000 downloads of the Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud are further evidence of Ubuntu as a viable alternative to Red Hat in the cloud Linux and virtualization arena.

Additionally, Canonical looks to have scored a coup with Dell selecting Ubuntu as the operating system and virtualization infrastructure for Dell’s forthcoming cloud servers. As The Register’s Gavin Clarke reports, these servers come out of Dell’s Data Center Solutions Group, whose servers power online properties such as Bing and Salesforce.com

Why Dell chose to work with Canonical, and not Microsoft or Red Hat on these servers is a moot point. Dell may in fact have similar plans with Microsoft, and maybe even Red Hat. What’s important is the vote of confidence in Ubuntu and Canonical.

Readers will point out that Dell’s history of supporting Linux is less than stellar. However, it’s important to note that the PC and server markets are very different. Linux share on PCs versus servers means that Dell can’t ignore the 30 percent of the server market seeking Linux solutions.

Heterogeneous data center & cloud environments:
Selecting Ubuntu for cloud deployments in conjunction with Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise for traditional data center workloads does introduce yet another environment to support. For some, the added complexity of yet another Linux environment to support means Red Hat, and Novell, have an opportunity to close the gap to Ubuntu in cloud deployments. For others, using Ubuntu in cloud deployments, regardless of their data center Linux selection, is a competitive differentiator, and a negotiation tactic against Red Hat or Novell in the data center. Where does your company land on this spectrum?

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