Microsoft has made the landmark announcement that they are using a Microsoft Linux derivative. While this may have once been a story that would be seen on The Onion, and even spawned the parody MSLinux.org site, there is no joke about what is coming out of the Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Open Technologies teams. Recent blogs also indicated that Linux was making more of an impact inside the Microsoft ecosystem than some may have realized (http://blogs.technet.com/b/windowsserver/archive/2015/05/06/microsoft-loves-linux.aspx).
In the recent announcement (https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/microsoft-showcases-the-azure-cloud-switch-acs/) we learned about how Microsoft has deployed a Linux-based switch for their Azure environment dubbed ACS (Azure Cloud Switch). This purpose-built SDN solution in the Azure cloud required a new approach. The choice to leverage Linux to power parts of the Azure platform was one that came from big shifts in the way Microsoft is working with open platforms.
(From the technet blog post named Microsoft Loves Linux, May 2015, http://blogs.technet.com/b/windowsserver/archive/2015/05/06/microsoft-loves-linux.aspx)
ACS on OCP
The ACS software platform was built to be able to run on Open Compute Project switch hardware. The Open Compute Project was spawned by Facebook and others as a not for profit open standards body to bring together many technology leaders on compute, networking, and storage products that would subscribe to open standards on commodity or proprietary hardware.
“The Azure Cloud Switch (ACS) is our foray into building our own software for running network devices like switches. It is a cross-platform modular operating system for data center networking.” (source: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/microsoft-showcases-the-azure-cloud-switch-acs/ )
There is some careful wording being used here though, which is that ACS is called a Linux derivative and not a distribution. The reason is that ACS technically falls under the classification of software running Linux rather than a true Linux distribution. The product is not meant to be run as a standalone hosting platform except for the Azure Cloud Switch.
Hosting and Configuration from Microsoft
Despite Microsoft not releasing this as a true distribution, this is another strong step in the right direction for a potential future Microsoft-contributed Linux distribution. Microsoft is already providing full support for a growing set of endorsed Linux guest OS versions to run on Azure (https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/articles/virtual-machines-linux-endorsed-distributions/).
We even saw the introduction of Microsoft PowerShell Desired State Configuration (DSC) (http://blogs.msdn.com/b/powershell/archive/2015/05/06/powershell-dsc-for-linux-is-now-available.aspx) that has been evolving since 2014 as a part of their overall configuration management portfolio.
Is a Full Blown Microsoft Linux Next?
Let’s face it, there are a lot of signs that point to Microsoft driving further into embracing the platform, but there are clearly two camps on what is next. Some would say that it doesn’t make sense for Microsoft to spin out their own full distribution because it could cut into their engineering and support requirements that should be supporting the rest of their existing platforms.
Others look at the past few years and see that Microsoft has really moved heavily into open platforms with their MS OpenTech group (https://msopentech.com/). It isn’t too far to go for them to provide a branded Microsoft Linux that would help them get better integration with other parts of their on-premises and Azure product suites. One thing is for sure, Microsoft is pushing upstream code to Open Network Linux (http://opennetlinux.org/) to power ACS. This is something that certainly has all eyes on what is next from Microsoft and their long term plans for the solution.