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SUSE Linux and Canonical invade Windows Azure

What about a Linux platform cloud, Microsoft?

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There's more to Microsoft's announcement that it will support Linux on its new Azure infrastructure cloud than sleeping with the enemy. While Red Hat Enterprise Linux is conspicuously absent from the list of supported Linuxes, the fact remains that Red Hat doesn't exactly need any help from Microsoft, and that SUSE Linux and Canonical, the companies behind their respective Enterprise Server 11 and Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Linux releases, need all the help they can get as they try to take on Shadowman.

As has always been the way, Redmond is happy to help an underdog if it gives grief to that market's dominant player in. Microsoft has given money to mainframe cloners to give IBM grief as it pushed Windows Server as an alternative to System z mainframes, and it kicked funding to SCO to help keep its Linux-Unix lawsuits with IBM, Red Hat, and Novell a-going, again to blunt the competition from Linux.

With Windows accounting for half of server revenues these days and not growing very fast, and Linux accounting for about a fifth of revenues and outpacing the growth of the overall server market and of Windows, perhaps the best way to keep the Linux enemy closer is to host it on the Azure cloud. Linux operating systems may be free, but Azure instances sure are not going to be – and if someone is going to get the infrastructure cloud money, as far as Microsoft is concerned, it is better that it go to Redmond than to Seattle if it is going to go to Washington State.

The smaller Linux vendors such as SUSE Linux and Canonical are happy to see their operating systems run anywhere customers want them, of course, with Red Hat sporting over 2.5 million licenses in its paying installed base and representing by far the lion's share of the commercial Linux support money. Every Linux install they can get is another one that doesn't go to Red Hat – and if that means working with Microsoft, as Novell, the prior owner of SUSE Linux certainly did, then so be it.

The idea, of course, is to get some support money out of these Linux images – the fact that the images happen to be running on a cloud owned by Microsoft is incidental.

Doug Jarvis, product marketing manager for enterprise Linux at SUSE Linux, says that his company is offering security patches and updates for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 SP2 during the technology preview phase that Microsoft formally announced on Thursday for its Azure infrastructure cloud. When Microsoft puts the fall update of the Azure platform out, SUSE Linux will start charging for support services, much as it does for SLES images on the Amazon cloud or on SLES licenses running on corporate servers.

The key thing that Jarvis wanted to make clear is that SUSE Studio, the online Linux stack building tool, can kick out VHD images that can run on top of Hyper-V much as it can package up images in various formats for other clouds and hypervisors. You cannot do a live migration across clouds yet, so the way you move workloads is to pre-position images on internal and external servers that are created by the SUSE Studio tool from a single code base.

"Our goal is to ensure that customers who participate in the program get the same experience on Windows Azure as they get inside their data center," says Jarvis.

Just like SUSE Linux, Canonical is offering Ubuntu 12.04 images for the Azure infrastructure cloud during this spring release and is providing security patches and updates for the code. With the fall release they'll be offering support services for sale directly through the Windows Azure Gallery portal, and if you have a mix of internal and cloud Ubuntu instances, you'll probably want to buy a support contract directly from Canonical under its Ubuntu Advantage support services.

Two things: first, now that Linux is available on the Windows Azure cloud and it is both an infrastructure cloud and a platform cloud, isn't it time for Microsoft to stop calling it Windows Azure and just call it Azure and to stop calling it a platform cloud when it is really both an IaaS and PaaS offering?

Second, just like Microsoft is offering .NET runtime and SQL Server database services on the platform side of Azure, as well as PHP and Node.js runtimes, all running atop Windows, doesn't it make sense to offer Linux runtime services and other database services on the platform part of Azure and running on, er, Linux?

Next thing you know, we'll be asking Microsoft to open source Windows... ®

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