Is RedHat’s acquisition by IBM going to affect you?

RedHat IBM

The common association with open source software is that it’s ‘free’. That is partially justified, but contrary to popular belief, you can also be non-compliant when using open source software as there are usage rules that apply (and need to be respected). Whenever an open source software publisher is acquired by a software giant, like is the case for Red Hat that was recently acquired by IBM, SAM managers, procurement and contract specialists should pay extra attention.

What we can learn from Oracle and Java

Before going into more detail on the Red Hat case, let’s look at what we can learn from previous, similar acquisitions. In 2010 Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems, that owned the (then) free open source software Java. Many customers expected that Java wouldn’t stay free, but very few of them took action – also because Oracle initially didn’t change anything. Some years after the acquisition, Oracle started to change the rules, so that organizations using Java in a particular way have to pay for the software.

For B-lay this resulted in a high demand for Java services, which we appreciate. But it also shows that whomever was thinking that Java would stay completely free forever, proved to be naïve. Oracle doesn’t acquire other publishers without having a goal to make profit. The interesting thing though is that Oracle didn’t even significantly change the licensing rules of Java. What Oracle did is to enforce these rules, so customers now really start to pay for products they should have paid for in the past already.

The IBM – RedHat case

Now let’s compare this to Red Hat and IBM. Red Hat customers don’t pay for the open source Linux software, but there are usage rules that need to be respected. And keep in mind: when using Red Hat software, you always need to pay support fees. If your software usage increases, you will need to pay more support too. Although the software itself is free, there are always costs associated to its usage. That means you can be non-compliant for Red Hat too if you don’t take these rules into account. Until now, customers were not really aware that this can happen, as Red Hat hardly ever audits its customers. But that might change with now that IBM is in charge. IBM is known as a rather aggressive auditor, so we advise you to have a critical look at how you use and manage your Red Hat products.

Take management of open source software seriously

Whether you are using open source software or not: you always need to manage it. Open source software is increasingly being used in large organizations. Like is the case with Red Hat, many open source software programs already use commercial support models. For a SAM manager this means that open source software, like commercial software, should be taken seriously. It doesn’t harm to look extra carefully when your open source software provider is being acquired by Oracle or IBM. Don’t wait until they start changing things and pro-actively start preparing to ensure you stay in control.

This article was also published on CIO.