Red Hat (NYSE: RHT), one of the biggest names in the open-source channel, is best known for its backroom server products, especially Red Hat Enterprise Linux. But the company underlined its commitment to the other end of the hardware spectrum as well this week with the announcement of a partnership with Avnet Embedded. Read on for the details, and what they reveal about future open-source trends.

Avnet Embedded is a business group of Avnet Electronics Marketing, which is an operating group of Avnet Inc. (NYSE: AVT). The organization operates in more than seventy countries, delivering both hardware components and design and supply services. Avnet itself is based in Phoenix.

Through the new partnership, Avnet will deliver the following Red Hat platforms for embedded products in the Americas:
  • Red Hat Embedded Linux
  • Red Hat JBoss Middleware solutions
  • Red Hat Developer Support
  • JBoss Developer Support
Red Hat clearly believes embedded computing will be crucial to the future of the open-source channel. As the company's vice president for Strategic Alliances, Dion Cornett, described it, "Red Hat's embedded business presents partners with strategic growth opportunities. This Americas distribution agreement with Avnet is the latest example of Red Hat's channel-centric strategy for offering OEMs the flexibility, speed-to-market and enterprise functionality they need to drive their revenues and profits."

Embedded Computing and Open-Source

Red Hat is not the only company thinking in these terms. Other major open-source movers and shakers have also been investing in the embedded niche recently. Canonical, for example, has developed Ubuntu Core, a minimalist version of the standard Ubuntu Linux distribution targeted at embedded hardware. The SUSE world has an equivalent in the form of MicroSUSE.

Leveraging these types of platforms in the commercial space, of course, requires more than simple investment in the development of minimalist Linux environments. Channel partners are also crucial for distributing these products and integrating them into embedded hardware solutions, as the Avent-Red Hat partnership shows.

So far, the commercial applications of embedded solutions offered by Red Hat's competitors have been limited, and it appears that the folks in Raleigh have gotten a head start developing open-source products for the evolving and expanding range of embedded devices. But as small hardware platforms become more and more intelligent -- necessitating software solutions of the kind that the open-source channel, with its flexible and adaptable frameworks and protocols, is particularly well poised to deliver -- this will likely become an increasingly competitive niche.