Red Hat embraces hybrid cloud for internal IT

For some enterprises, the road to hybrid cloud has run through Red Hat’s OpenShift. For Red Hat itself, that same journey, fueled by its flagship container platform, has been a principled one.

The company, which was acquired by IBM in 2017, prides itself on its origins — supporting open standards and fighting vendor lock-in. So it’s only natural that the internal IT infrastructure overhaul of the Raleigh, N.C.-based Linux software company would aim for the same.

Sticking with that tradition, Red Hat launched Open Hybrid Cloud, an internal IT migration that CIO James Palermo believes mirrors what will be the standard digital hybrid architecture of the future for many enterprises.

Open Hybrid Cloud’s three core components include a next-generation datacenter focused on building hybrid cloud infrastructure, a “hyperconnected” cloud-adjacent datacenter that enables low-latency data transfers with public cloud, and a hybrid cloud container platform built on Red Hat OpenShift 4. The internal project earned a 2023 CIO 100 Award for innovation and IT leadership.

All hypervisors have similar tools to OpenShift to migrate applications to the cloud. But Red Hat maintains that OpenShift is more open and is the best option to migrate to any cloud.

“The open part of this is we’re not locked into any proprietary [cloud] software — we are willing to extend our compute environment anywhere, whether it is Amazon, Google, Microsoft,” Palermo says. “The hybrid part is it can run in multiple environments — run it on premise or extend it to the public cloud environment in a secure manner beyond your corporate presence.”

Step 1: Reducing data center sprawl

Palermo and team began project Open Hybrid Cloud roughly 18 months ago. They recently finished the first phase, which involved shutting down four data centers in North America and consolidating the company’s internal applications in one data center on premises in Raleigh.

Several benefits came with that consolidation. Red Hat, for instance, was able to retire 150 legacy applications — about 10% to 15% of its total portfolio of applications — thus vastly reducing the company’s technical debt, Palermo says.

Cost saving was another major benefit. The company cut down the number of server racks it maintains from about 150 across multiple data centers to between 30 and 35 racks in the single data center.

“Because we were able to implement an entirely new workload architecture, we were able to reduce our infrastructure footprint significantly,” Palermo says. “It’s a massive, massive opportunity to reduce your total cost of ownership. “

Step 2: Going hybrid

For the project’s second phase, Red Hat has employed its cash cow product, OpenShift, to abstract, containerize, and migrate many of its business-critical workloads to the AWS cloud, where roughly 75% of Red Hat’s internal applications now run, including Oracle ERP, Salesforce, and Workday, Palermo says.

But because Open Hybrid Cloud finds its foundation in OpenShift, Red Hat can package up and move any of those workloads to any public cloud, the CIO adds.

The project has helped modernize Red Hat’s IT operations, offering distinct availability and security zones that allow Red Hat to make changes in the overall stack without disrupting operations, Palermo says.

The strategy was designed to ensure Red Hat IT can match the speed and adaptability demands of digital business, while improving the availability, resiliency, and security of its systems. Perhaps more notable is the fact that Open Hybrid Cloud ensures the company known for its hybrid cloud–enabling software can now reap the benefits of hybrid cloud itself.

As the major supplier of Linux for running apps on any cloud, and OpenShift as an open toolset for getting the apps there, Red Hat intends to remain integral to the transformations of enterprises by endorsing and sticking with a hybrid model.

The company is a major player in the software industry and counts enterprises such as San Diego Gas & Electric, ABB, Morgan Stanley, ExxonMobil, Barclays, and Lufthansa Technik as customers.

But not all analysts are as certain that enterprises IT architectures will be hybrid in the future.

“Clearly, the momentum is towards public cloud,” says Sid Nag, a vice president and analyst at Gartner, noting that enterprises in the future may shift from a hybrid model to a co-location or hosting facility to eliminate capital expenditures entirely.

“It’s going to be hybrid for a while, at least for the foreseeable future … maybe five years,” Nag says. “But I don’t think it’s going to be long term. If you look at the public cloud momentum, that is where IT is headed.”

CIO 100, Digital Transformation, Hybrid Cloud, Technology Industry