Contrary to popular rumors, Red Hat’s recent webcast was not to announce an imminent acquisition. Red Hat instead laid out an ambitious cloud strategy, going as far as claiming that only Microsoft and Red Hat are positioned to deliver an end-to-end cloud stack. However, the most important announcement from Red Hat may well be overshadowed by its comparison versus Microsoft Azure or its PaaS plans.

Here’s why IT decision makers shouldn’t ignore Red Hat’s submission of the cloud neutral Deltacloud cloud API to the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) and Apache Software Foundation.

Deltacloud sputtered under a single vendor’s control
Deltacloud was announced nearly a year ago at the 2009 Red Hat summit. Brian Stevens, CTO and VP, Engineering at Red Hat described Deltacloud’s goal:

The goal is simple. To enable an ecosystem of developers, tools, scripts, and applications which can interoperate across the public and private clouds.

Today each infrastructure-as-a-service cloud presents a unique API that developers and ISVs need to write to in order to consume the cloud service. The Deltacloud effort is creating a common, REST-based API, such that developers can write once and manage anywhere.

A cloud broker if you will, with drivers that map the API to both public clouds like EC2, and private virtualized clouds based on VMware and Red Hat Enterprise Linux with integrated KVM.

Red Hat’s approach was simple and seemingly appealing enough. Write to the Deltacloud APIs and your workloads can be ported across any cloud provider’s infrastructure that Deltacloud is able to interoperate with. However, the prospects of trading cloud provider API lock-in for Red Hat API lock-in wasn’t an appealing prospect for potential Deltacloud adopters. Whether “The World’s Open Source Leader”, as Red Hat bills itself, or not, lock-in is lock-in.

Choosing open standards & open source for Deltacloud
Red Hat wisely decided to contribute their Deltacloud API implementation to an independent third party, the Apache Software Foundation. By moving the implementation to an Apache Incubator project earlier this summer, the Deltacloud project is no longer saddled with the chains of a single vendor controlled open source project. This in turn has made it easier for multiple vendors to consider adopting and contributing to the Deltacloud project.

Red Hat appears to be following the standardization through implementation approach, and has submitted the Deltacloud API specifications to DMTF cloud standards body.

Regardless of how successful Red Hat’s cloud and PaaS business results are, they will likely pale in comparison to the customer value enabled should Deltacloud become a widely adopted industry standard.  By leveling the cloud workload portability playing field, Red Hat is enabling other vendors to compete based on the quality and completeness of their PaaS offering rather than portability itself.

It’s encouraging to see that Deltacloud already allows a high level of portability across six different cloud providers, with support for two more providers on the way.

Bryan Che, Red Hat cloud product manager, explained the Deltacloud announcement:

We do not want Deltacloud to be under the control of any one particular vendor, including Red Hat. If you want true interoperability and true portability, you need a third-party governance structure.

On the other end of the spectrum are vendors such as Eucalyptus that have decided to adopt Amazon EC2’s APIs. Marten Mickos, Eucalyptus CEO explains:

We believe the Amazon API is becoming the industry standard, and that many companies will follow it.

Choosing defacto standards vs. open standards
Deltacloud’s success as the standard for controlling cloud operations is far from guaranteed. In the same token, Amazon’s EC2 API remaining the defacto standard is not guaranteed as cloud usage shifts from early adopters to the mainstream enterprise market. Enterprises have been increasingly educated to demand open standards for which multiple implementations exist. IT decision makers must weigh the short term benefit of adopting a cloud specific API, such as Amazon’s EC2 API, versus the long term benefit of a cloud agnostic API such as Deltacloud.

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