Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Azure cloud veteran Radhesh Balakrishnan has joined Red Hat (NYSE:RHT) to drive the open source company's OpenStack and virtualization strategies. Balakrishnan's career move comes at a critical time for Red Hat, which is striving to push beyond Linux to compete with Microsoft and VMware (NYSE:VMW) across private and public clouds.

Although Red Hat remains in growth mode, the company's most recent financial results disappointed Wall Street. Some investors worry that Red Hat is too small to focus on so many priorities -- Linux, virtualization, middleware, storage and now cloud computing.

Balakrishnan, now general manager of Red Hat's virtualization business unit, will help to make the case that the company's software offerings complement one another. Among his top priorities: Building an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) platform powered by OpenStack. The effort will also leverage KVM (kernel-based virtualization), an open source alternative to VMware's vSphere hypervisor. But there again, Red Hat faces plenty of competition. Multiple OpenStack distributions are already surfacing in the market. And big vendors like Dell, HP and IBM are launching public clouds on OpenStack, which remains backed by Rackspace.

Balakrishnan had been with Microsoft since 1997, according to his LinkedIn biography. His positions included:

  • Group Product Manager, Windows Storage Server;
  • Chief Competitive Officer, India;
  • Director, Virtualization and Private Cloud
  • Senior Director, Cloud Platform

Cloud Partners Take Note

For Red Hat's channel partners, there are numerous opportunities and challenges ahead. Linux remains a cornerstone for many cloud services providers (CSPs) and enterprise datacenters. And RHEV has also gained some momentum among those customers. But Red Hat faces an uphill battle as it strives to differentiate vs. so many OpenStack, storage and IaaS offerings already in the market.

Where should partners focus their efforts first? The latest answers will likely surface at Red Hat Summit 2013 (June 11-14, Boston), one of The VAR Guy's Top 100 Channel Partner Conferences to track this year.

It's a safe bet Balakrishnan will push Red Hat's IaaS, virtualization and cloud initiatives forward during the conference.