Red Hat, Unlike Coca-Cola, Should Have No Secret Formula

NEWS ANALYSIS: Open source doesn't mean that there aren't competitive interests, but there shouldn't be secrets.

ATLANTA—One of the biggest topics of discussion at the OpenStack Summit here was something that didn't actually happen here. An article in the Wall St. Journal published on May 13 made broad allegations that Red Hat was "playing hardball" with OpenStack.

The allegations included a claim that Red Hat will not support its Linux customers that choose to run a different OpenStack distribution. It's a claim that Red Hat denies.

"To be clear, users are free to deploy Red Hat Enterprise Linux with any OpenStack offering, and there is no requirement to use our OpenStack technologies to get a Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscription," Paul Cormier, president of Products and Technologies at Red Hat, wrote in a blog post. "That's what open source enables, and it's not a new way of business for us."

One of the ironic twists in this story is that Red Hat held its OpenStack Summit party on May 14 at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta. To be sure, it was a lavish event with plenty of food and drink, but at the heart of the World of Coca-Cola building there lies a secret.

That secret is the Coca-Cola formula.

Buried within a special, secure location in the World of Coca-Cola is the actual vault (pictured) where Coke's secret formula is stored. There is an irony there that was not lost on me.

For more than 100 years, Coca-Cola has closely guarded its secret formula and is proud of the way that it has managed to protect that secret for so long. As part of the vault exhibit in the World of Coca-Cola, there are all kinds of information about the history of how the formula has been kept secret for so long.

Coca-Cola today is about more than just its secret formula; it's one of the world's most valuable brands. That said, it's important to remember that if Coca-Cola hadn't been able to keep its secret for the last century, it's success today might not have been assured.

In contrast, Red Hat is a company that should not have a secret formula. In fact, Red Hat's formula is the antithesis of the Coca-Cola secret formula. Red Hat generates more than $1 billion a year from open-source software. That is, by definition, software that is open for anyone to see.

With Red Hat's software portfolio, there is no secret vault in which the secret formula is held.

There is a lot of potential in the OpenStack market, and there are a lot of competing interests with their own agendas. The simple fact with OpenStack is that it needs an operating system on which to run. More often than not, that operating system is Linux.

It makes no sense to me to say that Red Hat would not support its customers that want to run a rival's OpenStack distribution. Whether an organization chooses to run a third-party OpenStack distribution on top of Red Hat Enterprise Linux or chooses to run Red Hat's OpenStack Platform, the bottom line for Red Hat is it will still make money.

Unlike Coca-Cola's formula, Red Hat's success is no secret.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.