Why Jim Whitehurst is Right to See VMware as the Competition

by Ostatic Staff - Aug. 30, 2011

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst is never one to mince words, and is often full of surprises. Recently, although his position is arguable, he contended that both the PC and fat client operating systems are headed for obsolescence. Now, he has told ZDNet which company he forecasts will be Red Hat's primary competitor by the year 2016: VMware. There are some excellent reasons to believe that forecast.

Many people underestimate what the arrival of easy-to-deploy virtualization really means. Companies and the open source community worked on virtualization for years before getting it right, and it was historically plagued with performance problems. Now, IT administrators are gung-ho about running multiple operating systems alongside each other through virtualization. It's even common when receiving a corporate-issued laptop to find two operating systems on the machine, one running in a virtual machine. 

What this--and the growing prevalence of applications in the cloud--mean is that, as Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols notes, "in the PaaS view of cloud computing, both the computing platform and software stack are abstracted." He writes:

"Red Hat, along with IBM, along with the Open Virtual Alliance (OVA), which supports KVM adoption in the enterprise, [can] make KVM the business virtualization program of choice. That puts them, as Whitehurst well knows, on a collision course with VMware, today’s virtualization super-power."

Indeed, VMware has much more competition than it ever had before, and Red Hat's KVM initiatives are a big focus for the company. When I've talked to officials from VMware in the past, and raised the concept of increased competition, they have told me that "virtualization is a tough computing problem to crack." 

Without a doubt, many people who attempted to crack virtualization years ago, failed. But that's not the case anymore. In fact, virtualization is becoming commoditized and delivered for free with operating systems. VMware doesn't have an operating system, but Red Hat does. And, Red Hat also specializes in middleware, so that it can offer end-to-end local/cloud/virtualized solutions to companies in ways that VMware can't necessarily. To top it all off, Red Hat is rapidly increasing its market power.

Over the next five years, we will see major shifts in what people think of as "computing platforms," with the cloud and virtualized operating systems assuming increased prominence. Red Hat's CEO is wise to realize early who his main competitor will be as that plays out.