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In IBM deal's wake, Red Hat RHEL 7.6 targets hybrid cloud

After its acquisition by IBM, Red Hat wasted little time unveiling the next version of its flagship product, RHEL 7.6, which supports hybrid clouds and updated security.

Delivered hot on the heels of its acquisition by IBM, the latest version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux contains several new capabilities that better support cloud-native technologies.

Not surprisingly, Red Hat touts version 7.6 of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) open source operating system as the foundation for hybrid cloud workloads. That vision aligns with what executives from IBM and Red Hat said this week: The combined company will have a dominant position in the hybrid cloud market.

Despite the acquisition, which was in negotiation since last spring, IBM did not add any more value to RHEL 7.6 than it typically has to previous versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux -- mainly general partner enablement features that would encompass the whole ecosystem, according to a Red Hat spokesperson.

It's unclear when or if IBM will begin to make more substantive contributions to future versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, but the two companies figure to work more closely on the operating system going forward.

One indication of that effort is Stefanie Chiras, a 17-year veteran of IBM who joined Red Hat in July as the vice president and general manager of Enterprise Linux. Chiras is also responsible for helping to guide that unit through its integration with IBM's hybrid cloud group.

IBM runs Red Hat-based versions of Linux on its LinuxOne mainframes and Power-based servers, in addition to its steady contributions to various versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. However, members of the Linux development community are cautious that IBM could assume too much control over the direction of the operating system and add functions that serve IBM's needs above those of the Linux community.

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty assured that IBM would take a hands-off approach with Red Hat as an independent entity, including core product development and its corporate culture. And some analysts believe if IBM gets too aggressive with its contributions to RHEL, it could damage the relationship and threaten its multibillion-dollar investment in the combined company.

"IBM won't meddle to much with [RHEL]; whatever contributions they have already planned, they may just accelerate those contributions," said Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects, a consultancy in Washington, D.C. "The importance of operating systems has been going away for a while. They are just a tool now that sucks in functions that are already in the applications."

It's unclear when or if IBM will begin to make more substantive contributions to future versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, but the two companies figure to work more closely on the operating system going forward.

At the same time, IBM plans to capitalize on Linux's presence within enterprise and cloud environments, and it will accelerate its public and private cloud efforts on top of Enterprise Linux with a number of its cloud-based offerings -- particularly analytics products.

Linux's 7.5% share of the worldwide server operating system revenue market at the end of 2017 trailed Windows Server with 23.7%, and it was ahead of IBM's AIX and System z operating system, at 2.8% each, according to a July Gartner report. In another recent report, Gartner predicted 75% of user organizations will have deployed either a hybrid or multi-cloud model.

This data buttresses Red Hat's belief that users want a foundation that supports workloads whether they run on bare metal or in the public cloud. This capability is a necessity for larger IT shops that support a mix of operating systems and cloud computing models -- and Red Hat officials contend that RHEL 7.6 provides such a foundation.

RHEL 7.6 upgrades security, automation

The new version of RHEL debuts the 2.0 version of Trusted Platform Module (TPM) hardware modules, which provide two layers of security for hybrid cloud to keep data on disks more secure. TPM is part of the Network-Bound Disk Encryption, which provides security across networked environments. And TPM itself is an on-premises capability that ties disks to specific physical systems.

Another addition to RHEL 7.6 is an enhancement to nftables that simplifies the configuration of counterintrusion measures, which gives administrators more visibility into this function and makes it easier to manage firewalls.

RHEL 7.6 also supports Enterprise Linux System Roles, a collection of Ansible modules that provide a more consistent way to automate and remotely manage Enterprise Linux deployments. Each module has an automated workflow to handle routine and complex tasks that come up as part of the everyday management of Linux. This level of automation is intended to reduce human error from these tasks and free IT admins to focus on adding value to more important projects.

Lastly, RHEL 7.6 works with the company's lightweight container toolkit, which is made up of Buildah, Skopeo, CRI-O and Podman. Podman, the latest addition to the toolkit, lets users run containers and groups of containers from a command-line interface.

RHEL 7.6 is available now to Enterprise Linux customers with active subscriptions.

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