In a 2001 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Steve Ballmer notoriously described Linux as “a cancer” to “everything it touches,” startling anyone with a propensity towards open source (Greene). Nearly twenty years later, however, Satya Nadella has taken over, and to quote technology writer Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, “this is [no longer] Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft” (Vaughan-Nichols). Mr. Nadella’s new rallying cry of “mobile first, cloud first” is embodied in his quest to “[drag] Microsoft into the age of open source” (Howley).
Microsoft Azure executives and senior leadership are the first to emphasize the company’s embracement of Linux. Microsoft’s Director of Azure Compute, Corey Sanders, announced at the Cloud Foundry Summit in 2017 that “one in three Azure virtual machines run on Linux,” and even more impressive, “over 60 percent of Azure Marketplace [virtual machine] images are Linux-based” (Vaughan-Nichols). The growth of Linux on Azure is also formidable. Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich claims that in the past year, Azure “has gone from one in four of its Azure virtual machines running Linux” to “nearly one in three” (Foley). Microsoft isn’t merely allowing Linux on Azure, in some cases it is requiring the use of Linux. In 2016, Microsoft made Azure Container Services generally available, with the catch that it was “for Linux containers only,” with other operating system support coming later (Foley).
Not only is Azure offering Linux to customers, Microsoft has begun using open source software internally as well. In a 2015 blog post, Microsoft networking architect Kamala Subramaniam explained an issue faced by Microsoft with network switches. The problem was “integrating the software that ships with those switches” with the plethora of software that Microsoft uses to run various services (Klint). Microsoft decided to build its own switch software, “and turned to Linux to do just that” (Klint). The move to utilize open source wasn’t unprecedented; Microsoft utilized a “Unix descendant FreeBSD” to run Hotmail for “many years after the acquisition” of the web-based email service (Klint). Microsoft is now allowing itself to “take advantage of improvements to the code made by other companies with similar problems” (Klint).
The Linux offerings from Azure are plentiful, and Microsoft is “working with various Linux communities to add even more flavors” (Szarkos). Azure features Linux “distributions such as Red Hat Enterprise, CentOS, Debian, Ubuntu, CoreOS, RancherOS and more” in the Azure Marketplace (RicksterCDN). Even more exciting is the lack of limitation. If the Marketplace does not offer your preferred flavor, Azure allows customers to “bring [their] own Linux distribution” (Vaughan-Nichols). It should be noted that “to bring an unsupported Linux distro to Azure…is no job for an amateur,” but a seasoned user familiar with “managing virtual machines on the cloud won’t find it challenging” (Vaughan-Nichols). Azure follows open source pricing, and “no matter what Linux you run,” except for Rad Hat Enterprise Linux, “Microsoft doesn’t charge upfront costs or termination fees for Linux VMs” (Vaughan-Nichols). When running a Linux virtual machine on Azure, the customer “only pay[s] for the resources [they] use” (Vaughan-Nichols).
Microsoft’s combination of low-cost, open source software with their industry leading virtual machine service level agreement of 99.9% uptime for VMs deployed with premium storage for all disks creates many incredible possibilities (RicksterCDN). Indeed, corporations around the globe are seeing the possibilities. According to Microsoft’s figures, “85% of Fortune 500 companies use” Azure and Azure is adding 120,000 new subscriptions per month (Howley). The time to migrate to the cloud is now.
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Finley, Klint. “Whoa. Microsoft Is Using Linux to Run Its Cloud.” Wired, Conde Nast, 18 Sept. 2015, www.wired.com/2015/09/microsoft-using-linux-run-cloud/.
Foley, Mary Jo. “Microsoft: Nearly One in Three Azure Virtual Machines Now Are Running Linux.” ZDNet, ZDNet, 21 June 2016, www.zdnet.com/article/microsoft-nearly-one-in-three-azure-virtual-machines-now-are-running-linux/.
Greene, Thomas C. “Ballmer: ‘Linux Is a Cancer.’” The Register, 2 June 2001, www.theregister.co.uk/2001/06/02/ballmer_linux_is_a_cancer/.
Howley, Daniel. “Here’s Why Microsoft Is the ‘New’ Cool Kid on the Block.” Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo!, 24 Sept. 2016, finance.yahoo.com/news/heres-why-microsoft-is-the-new-cool-kid-on-the-block-173600125.html.
RicksterCDN. “Overview of Linux VMs in Azure.” Microsoft Docs, 14 Sept. 2016, docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/virtual-machines/linux/overview.
Szarkos. “Endorsed Distributions of Linux.” Microsoft Docs, 2 Feb. 2017, docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/virtual-machines/linux/endorsed-distros.
Vaughan-Nichols, Steven J. “Linux on Azure: What Are Your Choices?” ZDNet, ZDNet, 29 June 2017, www.zdnet.com/article/linux-on-azure-what-are-your-choices/.