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Cisco, Red Hat in the Cloud: Friends or Enemies?

What is the operating system of the cloud? Linux vendor Red Hat would like it to be Linux. But networking giant Cisco, despite working closely with Red Hat in a number of areas, may be going another direction entirely.

Both Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) and Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) were busy last week with their own respective cloud-related initiatives. Red Hat launched a new cloud certification program while Cisco outlined its go-to-market cloud strategy. Is there an intersection between the two vendors and their cloud initiatives?

The answer to that question highlights the role that open source and in particular Linux is playing in how the cloud is shaping up as the next battleground for operating system vendors.

Red Hat last week unveiled its certification program for pay-by-the-hour, elastic cloud services. So far, the company has enlisted Amazon as one such certified partner. But Cisco, despite offering a growing number of cloud-based solutions, is not currently a certified Red Hat cloud provider partner. One reason Cisco has given is that it's not interested in competing with cloud service providers like Amazon.

It's also not interested in getting itself locked into an OS.

For Cisco, the choice of operating systems in the cloud isn't necessarily about being pro-Linux or pro-Windows. During her discussion of the company's cloud strategy, Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior stated that in her view, Cisco's approach to the cloud is standards-driven, and that the company also wants to ensure that users have some choice.

"We don't want the functionality of the network to work only in one cloud OS," Warrior said in response to a question from InternetNews.com. "So, from that point of view, we are neutral."

Warrior added that Cisco is going to make sure that their cloud initiatives work with multiple operating systems, including Red Hat and its Linux offerings.

Yet Red Hat still maintains a close relationship with Cisco in other areas that support the cloud.

"We have a solid working relationship with Cisco in several areas -- their IT dept is a major Red Hat user, many of their devices and networks embed Red Hat technologies," Mike Evans, vice president of corporate development at Red Hat, told InternetNews.com. "And we are one of the primary operating platforms for their new UCS systems."

UCS is Cisco new Unified Computing System initiative that integrates application servers into Cisco's networking gear. Cisco identified Red Hat as a key partner for UCS, with at least 20 percent of the early beta customers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux as their UCS application operating system.

Since its launch, the UCS system has been expanded for carrier deployments, in a solution that's officially called the Unified Service Delivery (USD) and which is intended to enable service providers to build their own cloud services.

Cisco's cloud OS?

Beyond just ensuring user choice, Red Hat is also a key part of Cisco's WebEx delivery infrastructure.

"We have a lot of relationships with Red Hat on the WebEx side," said Doug Dennerline, senior vice president of Cisco's software collaboration group.

Dennerline also described Red hat as "core" to Cisco's upcoming e-mail product, officially called WebEx Mail and set for release later this year.

The new cloud-hosted e-mail service is based on Cisco's acquisition of PostPath, a Linux-based e-mail solution.

Cisco is no stranger to open source, as Cisco is both a contributor and consumer of open source technologies. With WebEx, Dennerline noted that the relationship between Cisco and the open source realm is continuing to grow.

"WebEx brings us into the open source world in a very meaningful way," he said. "We're actually working across all of the software assets in Cisco and as we grow up here we're getting more and more open as we go to market, and Red Hat is just one of those relationships."