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In the previous post, we looked at the history of Red Hat Enterprise Linux from pre-RHEL days through the rise of virtualization. In this one we'll take a look at RHEL's evolution from early days of public cloud to the release of RHEL 8 and beyond. 

RHEL 6: Public cloud (2010)

This was the early days of public cloud—initiated by Amazon. Developers quickly saw the appeal of dynamic infrastructure, and operations teams were marketed to with enhanced operational efficiency. 

Soon after the initial appeal of dev/test on Amazon, many of our customers wanted the benefits of the stability and improved security on RHEL along with the platform’s extended ISV ecosystem in the cloud. To meet this need, RHEL 6 included images that could run on Amazon’s public cloud. 

Notably, the RHEL public cloud images were built from the same components as RHEL on bare metal. There isn’t a separate cloud variant of RHEL; there is only one RHEL which runs on a wide variety of platforms. RHEL entered the hybrid era—on premise bare metal and virtualized guests, and on public cloud as virtualized guests. This enabled legacy workloads as well as new “cloud native” applications to run on a common RHEL infrastructure. 

In order to be able to confidently deliver RHEL as Amazon instances we had to augment our testing grid to make cloud part of the regression mix. Yet simply building and testing was not enough. Cloud consumption models required enhancements to how customers managed and deployed. This included RH’s Satellite tools, the RHEL installer, and performance profiles—all aimed at simplifying and automating the setup. 

The cloud consumption model began changing expectations of many customers. As previously it was common to have “Unix guru” type system administrators who would “tinker under the hood” optimizing their systems. Cloud consumption in contrast is characterized by expectations that things “just work” out of the box. You will see the increased influence of automated operations in the descriptions of RHEL 7 and RHEL 8.

RHEL 7: Containers and portfolio foundation (2014)

IT departments in many companies evolved from a cost center running infrastructure to being a true partner of corporate development teams in driving business value: Digital transformation had begun in earnest. 

Increased technical agility and microservices enabled more flexible and rapid application time to value, but required a different approach to building and running this next wave of application. To address these needs, Linux containers became a foundational enabler of application agility. 

RHEL added enhanced security, performance and configuration ease of use to containers. Though not the first RHEL release to support a form of Linux containers (RHEL 6 supported LXC), the RHEL 7 series of releases have brought  a leap forward in terms of making Linux containers usable in production environments. At the core, containers are Linux, and the world’s leading enterprise Linux platform is RHEL. Agility at the application layer required agility at the lower infrastructure layer. 

Through tight integration with Red Hat OpenStack Platform, Red Hat Virtualization and Red Hat OpenShift, Red Hat built upon the trusted RHEL ecosystem with a portfolio of dynamic infrastructure that could appeal to both developers (dev) and operators (ops)—DevOps. RHEL now had evolved well beyond a standalone operating system to serve as the foundation of Red Hat’s hybrid cloud infrastructure portfolio—where RHEL runs on bare metal, virtualized guests, public and private cloud. 

During this period many other cloud vendors were added to the cloud provider list, including: Azure, IBM, Alibaba, and Google. The challenges of this dynamic infrastructure required significant enhancements in networking to be able to provide containers and virtualized guests direct access to hardware optimizations. Similarly, storage challenges required rapid creation and deletion of logical volumes to dynamically assign to short lived containers. 

Both of these examples illustrate that ease of use of automated configuration was becoming just as important as raw I/O speed. Through these low-level optimizations, RHEL had become the foundation of RH’s portfolio that included OpenStack, Red Hat Virtualization, Red Hat Storage, OpenShift and JBoss middleware. This full infrastructure stack transitioned Red Hat from being “just” a Linux company to being a portfolio serving both developers and operators.

RHEL 8 (2019)

Today, most of our customers realize that they are living in a hybrid cloud world. The reality is that some workloads will run on premise and other workloads are well suited for public clouds. In a deja vu that harkens back to the proprietary “UNIX wars” of the early 90s, customers don’t want to be locked into a single cloud vendor. Just like when we started RHEL 2.1, RHEL 8 provides a single common, trusted platform and ecosystem that runs across all of these deployment models - including a range of public cloud vendors. Cloud vendors have changed expectations among customers in simplifying the infrastructure consumption experience. Our response with RHEL 8 is to automate and simplify aspects of system configuration. 

Examples from RHEL 8 include:

  • The Red Hat Enterprise Linux Web Console, a comprehensive web-based GUI interface to a range of tasks.

  • Workload optimizations for SAP HANA and Microsoft SQL Server to enhance performance and improve ease of setup.

  • GPU acceleration for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning technologies.

  • Enhanced upgradeability via new tools to make migrating from RHEL 7 to RHEL 8 easier.

RHEL 8 also has evolved by providing Application Streams which help to facilitate more rapid updates of the tools and runtimes most in demand by RHEL ecosystem developers. The platform further simplifies administration by including access to Red Hat Insights which proactively scans systems for misconfigurations and security vulnerabilities and recommends remediation. For example, it will detect systems that are not up to date on security fixes and provide optionally automated remediation. The Insights rules can also analyze workloads and recommend performance optimizations, allowing customers to benefit from Red Hat’s years of experience supporting and optimizing enterprise infrastructure.

Many of these infrastructure automation capabilities inherent to RHEL 8 are the foundation of Red Hat OpenShift 4 and the upcoming Red Hat OpenStack Platform 15, which are designed to provide a full stack of dynamic infrastructure to developers and operators. This portfolio of capabilities builds on the power of the open source community in providing a consistent, dynamic hybrid runtime. RHEL has come a long way from “light up the box,” to being an open choice in a diverse landscape of on premise and cloud deployment models.

Thats a quick walk through the 18 years of RHEL history. It’s always exciting to look back, but remember that we’re never done innovating and evolving. Just a few months after RHEL 8.0 hit the streets, we've got RHEL 8.1 beta out for feedback. This is the essence of RHEL and Red Hat. 

It's not uncommon that we Red Hatters reminisce about “the old days.”  Yet I firmly believe that today is the best time to be part of this open source revolution. We started by getting computers reliably running Linux, scaled them out and then demonstrated that open source can drive innovation faster than a company can do alone. Who would have imagined when we started RHEL, that it would grow to $10T in annual business impact? We put the ‘E’ in Enterprise, and we’re just getting started, together.

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