What the Red Hat acquisition means for Kubernetes (and OSS as a whole).

In the largest software acquisition ever, IBM announced they would be acquiring tech giant Red Hat. While the initial reactions were mixed, many in the tech community seem  concerned with what will happen to Red Hat’s numerous open-source initiatives, including:

OpenShift Origin
Cent OS
And 300+ more

The Concern

In the report, IBM mentioned that Red Hat will remain a distinct unit within the company (similar to the recent GitHub acquisition by Microsoft). Even so, this has many concerned as IBM has historically focused on sales and profit, doing whatever it takes to enforce their bottom line, rather than what benefits the community. Some in the DevOps community are concerned that it will be like the dreaded Sun acquisition by Oracle, but there is no real evidence to point to that. Others believe that IBM has lost its way, and this is a last ditch effort to remain a relevant player in the exponentially growing cloud ecosystem.

In the early 2010’s IBM acquired multiple cloud companies including SoftLayer to help bolster their cloud offering in 2013 for $2 billion and have since struggled to find relevance in the market. Three years after acquiring SoftLayer, IBM made the decision to merge everything underneath the same brand, IBM Bluemix, in order to create a unified dashboard. One year later they killed the name Bluemix and have since merged everything underneath IBM Cloud. It will be interesting to see if they do the same with Red Hat. Will it always be standalone or will we see it rolled into their cloud suite as well?

Source: Gartner's Magic Quadrant, Cloud Infrastructure as a Service

Even with these acquisitions IBM has continuously been last place when it comes to cloud providers, being outpaced by AWS,  Azure, Google, Oracle, and even Alibaba. So it comes as no surprise that they would be looking to find a competitive advantage to help level the playing field. With the Red Hat acquisition IBM will no longer have to sell consumers on using their hardware and now have a unique offering of allowing them to sit on top of any/and or all of the major cloud providers. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

What it means for Kubernetes

Currently, Red Hat sits at the #3 contributor for Kubernetes (15,324 commits), behind individual contributors & Google — while IBM sits at #6 (1385 commits). While they might be closely ranked, Red Hat has 91x more contributions than IBM with only 3% of the company size.

Source: Stackalytics Kubernetes Code Contribution

Red Hat has been contributing to open-source Kubernetes since 2014 and has been a major supporter and founding member of the CNCF. They acquired CoreOS in the beginning of 2018 to bolster their own Kubernetes offering and have still been a major supporter of both upstream Kubernetes and their own OpenShift fork.

Red Hat has contributed and lead numerous Kubernetes Special Interest Groups and Working Groups including:

API Machinery
Big Data
Container Identity
IoT Edge
Resource Management
Security Audit
Service Catalog

While IBM is only leading these four:

IBM Cloud
Service Catalog

It brings into question whether or not Red Hat will be able to continue to focus on all of these groups, or if there will be conflicts of interest for some of them (e.g. the Azure SIG), or if IBM will utilize this expertise to help bring in and train more of their cloud team to become leaders in the space.

IBM has been around for over a century, a fact that few other tech companies can match. They have gone through numerous changes and their focus shifts to match current demands and trends. Red Hat’s founding ideology was centered around open-source software while it is a more recent adjustment for IBM. IBM was also a  founding member of CNCF, and has done a lot to promote and support open initiatives such as Docker, the Open Container Initiative (OCI), and OpenStack. Additionally, IBM partnered with Google to release Istio, the open-source service mesh that works with Kubernetes.

Other concerns that are still up in the air: What will happen to their current open-source tooling? Will the focus still be on enabling the community through a shared system of tooling or will priority be given to tools that help meet profit requirements? Has the culture shifted enough already to help encourage and grow Red Hat, or do the 100+ years of existence and 300,000+ employees mean they are already too set in their ways?

Our Hope

We believe that there is hope for IBM. They were one of the early companies to commit to extending efforts to help open-source licensing. They too have a large amount of open-source tooling.  Additionally, there has been a wave of old hat tech giants rethinking their strategy towards the industry and their consumers. It’s ridiculous to think that they are on their last legs; they are a household name in technology and we truly believe that the cloud wars are still in their infancy. With more than 80%–90% of organizations workloads being run in-house, there is still a lot of green space left.

This new acquisition of Red Hat could be just the thing that helps IBM level the playing field and not only give them a stronger tech presence, but also attract others to migrate from their current providers to IBM’s infrastructure.

We only hope that IBM will continue to encourage open-source tooling and development and provide Red Hat with the infrastructure it needs to grow its tools.  Additionally, they need to empower all of their employees to contribute back to the community. Can you imagine what an organization 25x larger than Red Hat could accomplish?

However, in the short term, it’s safe to assume there will not be any major changes to their Kubernetes support or other open-source projects. We will have to wait and see what IBM’s plans are with this acquisition, but Containership is hopeful that it will help shift an old company into a new light.

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