Most companies are still not very cloud-ready, and need to work on virtualising and automating their processes before pursuing a cloud strategy in earnest.

According to Frederik Bijlsma, Red Hat’s EMEA Cloud Business Unit Manager, one of the big challenges that companies face in 2013 is figuring out how to build a cloud-ready architecture. This involves not only technical changes but also a lot of organisational change, he said.

“Many of them still have a lot of legacy out there; they have a lot of old applications which are costly to maintain, which are not easy to move to the cloud, so they will need a project to get there,” Bijlsma told Techworld.

“What we normally do is we have a methodology, and basically there's multiple steps to it. One is really assessing what is in their IT portfolio, for example, are they virtualised yet?”

Bijlsma said that Linux itself often isn't virtualised, because it tends to run big enterprise applications like SAP. This means that the servers have a high level of utilisation, so they are harder to virtualise than servers that are largely idle and can therefore be consolidated.

“What we do with those customers is we propose Red Hat Enterprise Virtualisation (RHEV), which basically enables really good scalability – so we have better scaling than VMware for example, based on the KVM technology,” he said.

“The tool kit we have offers things like self-service catalogues, where you can easily provision services to end customers. You can imagine if somebody wants to provision an instance of SAP very quickly or an instance of whatever application runs on Linux, they can just do a self-service portal access.”

The other big part of becoming cloud-ready, according to Bijlsma, is process automation. This means implementing a platform that spans the physical systems and the virtual systems – whether they are based on RHEV, OpenStack or VMware vSphere – at the process level.

So, for example, a user could deploy an application and take it from a development environment to a testing environment then down to a production environment.

“Some customers have adopted that widely, others perhaps have not. Currently in most of the cases it's not scaling across the different virtualisation providers. So they have perhaps a solution for VMware only, or a solution for their physical systems only,” said Bijlsma.

“We offer unique value here with our CloudForms product, because it can basically enable you to see your IT as a portfolio, and allow you to deploy your resources across all of these different types of infrastructure.”

Bijlsma said that organisations can get the most value out of the future changes in the cloud by adopting open source technology. This is because the big changes and the big innovation in cloud computing are still to come.

He pointed to the OpenStack infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) cloud computing project as an example of why investing in open source is a good move. Red Hat recently announced that it is the second biggest contributor to the OpenStack project, after Rackspace.

“It's key for the customers because they are sure that they are placing their bets on something which will be sustainable,” he said. “The same is true for us of course, because we are building products for customers, and OpenStack is really getting a lot of momentum currently.”

Bijlsma said that, when Red Hat started out in the 1990s, Linux made up about 20-30% of all OS deployments, but over the last few years that proportion has grown to 60-80%, and now most of the big public clouds are built on Red Hat's Linux infrastructure.

For example, the company's platform-as-a-service offering, OpenShift, is hosted on the Amazon cloud and leverages the multi-tenant capabilities that Linux offers. This means that things can be stacked very closely together on the infrastructure, reducing cost and improving scalability.

“We are hosting many different users of OpenShift on one Amazon instance even. That's only possible because Linux has these unique capabilities in terms of separation of concerns and also on performance scaling,” he said.

One company that is making use of Red Hat's cloud tools is animation studio Dreamworks, which runs RHEV in its own data centre but also has the ability to burst out into the public cloud. Bijlsma said that, for Dreamworks, this ability is really critical.

“It's all digital, there's no filming, so it's basically just a scaling function of how much compute you put in there. If you have a deadline you basically can just add compute,” he said.

Many other new technologies, such as Hadoop, are also open source, because it enables the developers to be more flexible and develop applications faster. In many ways, the economic downturn has also played a role, giving organisations an incentive to move away from traditional licensing models, said Bijlsma.

Customers that have been using virtualisation from VMware for many years are now looking at consolidating back to a dual sourcing strategy, in order to gain more purchasing power. Bijlsma said that this represents a real shift for many companies.

Of course Microsoft is also vying for the same customers and, like Red Hat, Microsoft also offers a complete stack for building applications in the form of its cloud computing platform Azure. Bijlsma admitted that there is a lot of similarity in terms of the stack, but returned to the point about openness and flexibility.

“We are basically an OpenStack company providing a complete open software stack, and you could classify Microsoft as somebody providing vice versa on the proprietary side,” he concluded.