SUSE takes the fork in the road

Today: times are a-changing in the market for enterprise Linux, Lawrence Livermore Labs joins the exascale computing club, and the latest in enterprise startup funding.

SUSE takes the fork in the road
Photo by Jens Lelie / Unsplash

Welcome to Runtime! Today: times are a-changing in the market for enterprise Linux, Lawrence Livermore Labs joins the exascale computing club, and the latest in enterprise startup funding.

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Holy forking shirtballs

Companies building and maintaining applications running on Linux have lots of choices for the base operating system layer, from traditional companies like Red Hat and Canonical's Ubuntu to the cloud providers themselves: Even Microsoft has a Linux distribution. But in response to Red Hat's decision last month to clamp down on the Linux clone market, SUSE plans to throw another hat into the ring.

SUSE announced Tuesday that it "will develop and maintain a RHEL-compatible distribution available to all without restrictions," in addition to its own SUSE Linux Enterprise distribution. It will spend up to $10 million "over the next few years" to fork RHEL, which will send a ripple through what had been a pretty calm space until last month.

For those unfamiliar with the decades of history that led to this point, you might be understandably confused.

  • In June Red Hat announced that it would only provide the source code to Red Hat Enterprise Linux to Red Hat customers, ending years of tradition that had allowed companies like Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux to provide low-cost RHEL-compatible distributions.
  • RHEL has long been the most widely used server operating system among the Linux varieties, and countless enterprise applications have been built around it.
  • But maintaining those applications on RHEL requires lengthy and expensive support contracts, and clone makers like Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux offered an alternative based on the remnants of the CentOS project.
  • In June, Red Hat finally grew tired of supporting their work directly: "Ultimately, we do not find value in a RHEL rebuild and we are not under any obligation to make things easier for rebuilders; this is our call to make," wrote Mike McGrath.

That decision unleashed a torrent of criticism directed at Red Hat and IBM, which bought the company for $34 billion in 2019 in hopes of finding a new source of enterprise revenue growth.

  • Rocky Linux vowed to continue its efforts to produce a RHEL-compatible distribution.
  • "In the unfortunate event that Red Hat decides to ramp up efforts to negatively impact the community, Rocky Linux will persist to continue serving the best interests of the entire open source community," it said in a blog post released after Red Hat's decision.
  • Purchasing a distribution takes a lot of work out of running open-source projects at the enterprise level; the vendor does a lot of the heavy lifting required to make all the parts work together reliably at scale, and the idea of paying for that work isn't controversial to a lot of companies.
  • But as anyone who has been involved with open-source software knows all too well, passions run high when it comes to defending the principle that software built around others' work should be made available to those who laid the foundation for the work.

SUSE will contribute its forked version of RHEL to a foundation to maintain the code and ensure it will be available to whoever needs it.

  • Don't underestimate the degree to which this forked version of RHEL is a marketing vehicle for SUSE, which now gets to position itself as the truly "open" enterprise Linux company.
  • Even Oracle couldn't resist taking a shot at IBM and Red Hat this week, although given the company's history it's hard to imagine that message was greeted with anything other than bemusement.
  • But RHEL customers will have some interesting decisions to make the next time their contracts come up for renewal.
  • If anything, the whole saga has played out like an enterprise version of the Barbra Streisand effect: Thanks to Red Hat's decision, RHEL-compatible distributors are getting a moment in the sun.

Big iron

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory spent the last few days assembling what should be the world's most powerful supercomputer once it is fully operational, according to The Next Platform. The El Capitan machine uses CPUs and GPUs from AMD, which are also found in the exascale system at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that it is expected to displace as the new leader.

U.S. government agencies have been driving demand for powerful supercomputers for decades, but demand for that level of performance appears to be shifting to the commercial sector. Last year Turing Award winner Jack Dongarra, who helped build the Oak Ridge machine, theorized that cloud providers would be the ones to carry the performance banner into the future.

And that was well before the generative AI craze kicked in. With startups like Coreweave and others pushing Big Cloud to snap up every GPU in sight, the next exascale computers could be available as infrastructure to anyone.

Enterprise funding

U.S. startup investments by venture capitalists fell by half in the first half of 2023 compared to the prior year, according to data from Pitchbook.

Savvy disclosed it has received $30 million in funding over the last several years and launched its product for securing SaaS application integrations. landed $5 million in seed funding for its service that helps companies get better at prompt engineering.

The Runtime roundup

Broadcom's $61 billion acquisition of VMware is expected to get approval from the European Union as soon as tomorrow, according to The Financial Times. U.S. and U.K. regulators are still examining the deal.

TPG Capital acquired the government security division of Forcepoint from Francisco Partners for $2.45 billion, in another validation of the private equity sector's hunger for enterprise software companies.

Microsoft released more details on the severe weather incident that took down Azure in its West Europe last week, which involved hurricane-force winds.

Salesforce will raise prices on most of its core services by an average of 9%, taking the other approach to improve its bottom line after severe cost-cutting earlier this year.

Thanks for reading — see you Thursday!

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