Events at the far ends of the country last week demonstrated that the move from proprietary software is accelerating as a pair of long-intertwined titans rolled out open source operating systems aimed at big-ticket users.
In Boston, IBM’s new subsidiary, Red Hat, released the eighth iteration of its Red Hat Enterprise Linux system, dubbed RHEL8, at a gathering of developers working on the open-source software platform. Five years in the making, the release contains a number of features aimed at hybrid-cloud IT infrastructures.
Elsewhere, Microsoft told developers at its annual Build Conference in Seattle to expect in June a version of Windows built for the Linux kernel, the core of the operating system that parcels out computing and storage resources. Microsoft’s second iteration of its Windows subsystem for Linux, named WSL2, is available on the company’s GitHub open-source development platform.
The shift by both corporations to open-source systems – no less influential than when Microsoft and IBM teamed up to power early versions of the personal computer – is guided by market forces seeing more enterprises adopting hybrid cloud IT landscapes.
According to the market research firm IDC, 70% of enterprises are moving from on-premises data centers to cloud computing environments that use a mix of on-premises, private cloud and third-party services.
Thanks in part to open-source development of the container-based applications that run in these environments, Red Hat says its market-leading Linux operating system and stack configurations underpin IT infrastructures that account for some $10 trillion in annual sales.
IBM and Microsoft are attempting to reshape their business models to meet the open source shift by acquiring code repositories and development platforms for software and services.
IBM’s $34 billion purchase of Red Hat, which won clearance from federal regulators earlier this month, marks a significant step away from its focus on data center servers that traditionally has been a pillar of its business.
Microsoft’s $7.5 billion purchase of GitHub closed in October, deepening the company’s connection with the 28 million developers who host projects and share code on the site. Additionally, GitHub gives Microsoft a lever in the enterprise market for its Azure cloud service — a strategic shift undertaken by CEO Satya Nadella.
IBM also has placed a priority on developing its cloud services business because sales of its data center hardware have slowed, due in part to corporate buyers moving away from on-premises data centers to the hybrid cloud. In announcing RHEL 8, executives touted its retooled utility for managing enterprise applications that run in the cloud.
New features include Applications Stream, which permits uninterrupted updating of tools, languages and frameworks, and Universal Base Image, which allows the building of applications in containers that then can be bolted to on-premises and cloud platforms.
The updated system also automates systems management tasks and desktops, which IBM says eases the learning curve for new users, including for Windows administrators.
The latter should get a boost, as well, from the file system performance that Microsoft says will result from its Linux kernel architecture. It is optimized for the operating system’s 4.19 kernel, with its smaller footprint consuming fewer resources when launching application files.
As with RHEL 8, Microsoft’s WSL2 also is made to work with container applications like FUSE and Docker, improving boot speeds by as much as 20 times, the company says.
Microsoft began building for the Linux kernel with Azure Sphere, the microcontroller for connected devices it released last year. Due to the increase of cloud-native applications written for the edge, WSL2 can ease the transition for companies developing those applications with open-source architectures and platforms.
The success of Microsoft’s own transition from proprietary software is evident in a near doubling of quarterly revenues from cloud operations.
By contrast, IBM’s bid to drive traffic to its private cloud services lags behind Microsoft and Amazon Web Services. So Big Blue, whose overall performance has been flat in recent years, is rolling the dice that Red Hat, which controls the lion’s share of the global Linus business, will boost its business in the cloud.