2012 may be the year Microsoft transforms itself into a company with a future beyond the Windows desktop.Later this year, Microsoft will add technology to its cloud service, Azure, that will let users run Linux applications on Azure, reports ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley. This underscores just how seriously Microsoft wants to compete with Amazon.
Microsoft will fix a problem with Azure that has made Azure a poor choice for applications running in virtual machines, says Foley. A virtual machine allows an application to think it has the operating system and server all to itself when it is really sharing the server. This allows one physical server to host many different operating systems.
Today, if a company wants to use Azure to run existing applications in a virtual machine like Microsoft’s Hyper-V, Azure has an issue. Anytime that virtual machine is rebooted — even randomly by the Azure platform — all data is lost unless that data is stored in a database. Many applications don’t use databases to store things that the operating system should be able to remember, like machine names.
When Microsoft fixes this problem, there’s no reason why it can’t let Linux run on Azure in a virtual machine. And it looks like the company has decided that it will do just that — although it hasn’t yet announced these plans, nor has it said it will provide technical support for the Linux operating system on Azure. Customers will be on their own to do that, Foley says.
Microsoft’s enterprise customers use both Windows and Linux in their data centres and have pressured the company to play nicer with Linux. Microsoft has bent to that request in several ways, including inviting Linux onto its cloud. (Last month, it wooed the people who hate it most to come and use Azure by letting developers use non-Microsoft technologies to build Azure applications.)
But Microsoft doesn’t really have a choice. The cloud makes the operating system irrelevant, as most applications run via a user’s browser. This allows new applications and even entire startup companies to avoid Microsoft products entirely, unless they choose the company to provide their cloud platform — and today, Amazon has been the go-to provider for that. For instance, Groupon has famously built its business in part on Amazon EC2 and S3.
Once Microsoft is willing to support Linux on Azure — and not just as a second-class citizen — it will have taken a big step toward becoming a real threat to Amazon. Fortunately for the company, it looks like its customers are slowly pushing it there.