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What Microsoft announced in May was early stage support for CentOS: CentOS now runs as a "first class citizen" on Windows Server R2 Hyper-V, meaning Hyper-V and the CentOS drivers have been tuned to work together from the perspective of performance.

Microsoft is also making it possible for users of its Systems Center management software to provision and spin up a CentOS instance on Hyper-V and manage updates and patches. Redmond offers a CentOS plug-in for workflow management software called System Center Orchestrator, which was known as Opalis before Microsoft bought it in 2009, and there's a plug-in for connecting to Spacewalk and SuSE Manager.

Microsoft has also tuned CentOS for Hyper-V via continuous updates to the 20,000 lines of Linux driver code it open sourced in 2009 under GPLv2, and it's providing customers running CentOS with telephone support.

Microsoft knows this is only the beginning. Gupta says the company is also looking at trying to manage the "heartbeat" of CentOS on Hyper-V using Systems Center. This means looking at characteristics like CPU utilization or, if you are running a web server like Apache on CentOS, tracking down network bottlenecks.

What comes next with CentOS – and perhaps Ubuntu and Debian – will depend a great deal on what the company learns over the next three months supporting the Linux distro.

Microsoft also supports SuSE and Red Hat. On these two OSes, it turned to Novell and Red Hat for engineer and support help. And with Ubuntu support, there would be a similar relationship with Canonical. But like CentOS, Debian is a community project that doesn't have one main commercial backer, which means that Microsoft must work more on its own.

We will lean a lot more in the next three months - more than we have leaned so far before the start of the project.

"Having no vendor behind something like this is a new model for us because, so far, it was much smoother: we handed off to Novell or Red Hat when a call came in. Now we have to make sure when we deal with a least install and config issues it's a high-quality experience for the customer. We have to make sure it's not a 'nice to have', it's a 'need to do'," Gupta said.

"If we go Debian, we will have a similar challenge, but hopefully from the CentOS experience we will learn a lot," he said. "We will lean a lot more in the next three months - more than we have leaned so far before the start of the project.

"We cannot know what we need to do so far with resource set on call volume, but the next three to six months will tell us a lot more about resource adjustments and doing something similar in other communities when it's a Linux or something else."

How far Microsoft goes with its Linux love may be restricted by money. Support for Linux might be great for selling more copies of Microsoft's software and ensuring customers are not lost to VMware, but it also means increased costs for Redmond. Right now, things are fairly simple with CentOS. The company can ensure the OS works with nightly builds of Hyper-V with a little engineering work on management plug-ins, and Microsoft is feeling its way on how to resource the telephone support line

Microsoft as IBM?

A bigger question is in play: does Microsoft really want to become a services company like IBM? Support for Linux today is a tiny, tiny percentage of Microsoft's overall business. Taken to its endpoint, such a move could take Microsoft's core focus away from Windows.

Right now, Microsoft's rationale for technical support of CentOS is clear: making sure those nightly builds of Hyper-V work with CentOS. Gupta says Microsoft is drawing the line at "touching" the Linux code. It won't provide patches.

"We are clearly not going in the direction of IBM, but with the cloud we are getting into services. This is a bit different, this is more about making sure if somebody deploys our cloud, they can have all those things co-exist, that they are not going to build a cloud just for Microsoft products, and just for Linux, and just for Oracle," he said.

"We are not a Linux distributor and we are not going to be one," Gupta said confidently, before quickly adding with a grin: "I don't think!" ®

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