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Microsoft eyes Ubuntu and Debian love on Hyper-V

Azure to run Linux?!

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Microsoft says that its Hyper-V virtualization stack may soon support the Ubuntu and Debian Linux distros as well as CentOS, Red Hat, and SuSE.

The proprietary software shop has told The Register that after adding CentOS support last month, it's looking to support other Linux distros on Hyper-V and also its management software. Furthermore, It is considering giving Ubuntu and Debian penguins a phone number they can call if things go wrong.

"One request that has come to us time and again is Ubuntu and Debian," Sandy Gupta, general manager for marketing strategy for Microsoft's Open Solutions Group, told The Reg during a recent interview. "We haven't seen a lot of requests, but what we have found is when somebody wants Ubuntu, they want Ubuntu.

"If we were to do look at those two [Debian and Ubuntu], and we are looking, Ubuntu would be the next big popular thing for us to look at." Requests are primarily coming from web hosters in Europe.

Microsoft's love for Linux is designed to stop VMware from becoming the default virtualization and management standard for Linux in the cloud. Several Linux distros currently install on VMware hypervisors.

Gerry Carr, director of communications at Ubuntu sponsor Canonical, told us no specific conversations are taking place with Microsoft, although company reps had spoken to Gupta at various events.

If Microsoft doesn't do this, it'll lose potential customers forever to VMware

Carr added that while Microsoft is a closed-source-centric company – and opposed to the open-source Linux philosophy of Ubuntu – it makes sense for the two companies to work together. "We obviously recognize their place in the market and spend a lot of time working on technologies to better integrate with them; so if there is work that will make out users' lives easier then that's very welcome."

At a corporate level Microsoft has historically been aggressively anti-Linux and anti-open source, but those in its Server and Tools biz are pragmatic. They know that they need to work better with Linux and open source or risk losing operating system, virtualization, and management money to VMware. The Server and Tools group is home to both Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V.

Gupta said that Microsoft is moving into Linux support for one simple reason. "VMware is competition for us. VMware has similar support on ESX." If Microsoft doesn't act, it will lose potential customers to VMware forever, as those running Linux and Windows standardize on ESX as their virtualization layer. "We have more differentiation in systems than just virtualization, across other aspects of management," he said.

This all goes back to a massive re-organization of the Microsoft's Server and Tools unit last year. During that re-org, VMware was identified in a leaked internal memo seen by The Reg as a potential threat to Microsoft in the cloud.

Supporting Linux on Hyper V also means that Microsoft can equip itself with the technical knowledge and driver-level support needed to run the open source OS on the company's own Windows Azure cloud.

Sounds crazy? The Reg has learned from a source familiar with the situation that the company already has a version of Linux working on its Azure compute fabric in the lab. This work was done by Microsoft's Windows Azure engineering labs, which sits inside the Server and Tools group. According to our source, the work is at a very early stage. It will be at least 10 months, he says, before Microsoft is ready to announce anything.

Presumably, this will involve running Linux on Azure's "VM roles", raw instances akin to what you get on Amazon EC2. Originally, Azure was a pure platform-as-a-service, meaning it didn't offer access to raw VMs, but this is changing.

Currently, Microsoft's Azure compute fabric uses a modified version of Windows Server 2008 R2. It runs its own hypervisor – the Windows Azure Hypervisor – but features from that hypervisor are moving into the main Hyper-V software. The Fabric controller handles high-speed connections, load balancing, and switching between servers used in Azure.

Linux on any sort of Windows might be anathema to the Microsoft old guard and anybody outside Microsoft's Server and Tools unit, but Linux on Azure would be a big win for the company's customers.

Many of Microsoft's biggest users of Windows, Hyper-V, and other Redmond products also run Linux in their data centers. These are precisely the companies Microsoft is trying to push towards the Azure cloud.

For Microsoft, it would also mean Azure becomes more like Amazon's EC2, which offers a choice of operating systems - including Window. It fits with Microsoft's strategy of giving customers the choice of running non-Microsoft languages such as Java and PHP on top of Azure.

There's a long way to go before that.

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