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Is the cloud Linux country?

VMware and virtualization changed the face of enterprise IT. And cloud computing — in some form or another — promises to do the same.

What shape will the cloud take? It’s still too early to say for sure, but my gut tells me the cloud will be inextricably linked with Linux-inspired tools, applications and operational philosophies.

Web 2.0 and the cloud set is dominated by mainstays of the Linux ecosystem: programming languages (Ruby and Python), operating system-provisioning tools (Cobbler and Foreman), configuration management and automation frameworks (Puppet and Chef) and monitoring suites (Nagios and Zabbix). Linux folks, who lament Windows’ cost, security and lack of programmability, also dominate the emerging DevOps movement.

In a roundabout way, a new Linux Foundation survey confirms my suspicions: New instances of Linux — and that has to describe anything remotely cloud-like — are overwhelmingly going toward new applications. In the past two years, the survey found, 71.6% of new Linux deployments went to brand new applications and greenfield deployments, versus 38.5% and 34.5% of new Linux instances that were derived from Windows and Unix migrations, respectively. It’s hard to change horses midstream, but less so when you’re still on the riverbank.

What kinds of new workloads are IT shops deploying on Linux? Big data, for one. Organizations that plan to add servers to support big data workloads will use Linux over Windows by a two-to-one margin (71.8% vs. 35.9%). Given big data’s open source and Linux heritage, that’s not entirely surprising, but it’s still quite telling.

Meanwhile, in the short term, the big names in cloud are hedging their bets.

Amazon, for example, recently extended its Amazon Web Services Free Usage Tier to Windows Server 2003 R2, 2008 and 2008 R2, providing developers up to 750 hours of testing time per month, for up to one year. The service was previously limited to Linux Amazon machine images, and it should be a boon to enterprise developers testing multi-tier apps that run on mixed platforms.

But at the same time, Microsoft itself is set to begin offering Linux instances on Azure, making it possible to move existing Linux apps to Redmond’s Platform as a Service (PaaS), rather than building them from scratch. I would have loved to have been a fly in the wall in that meeting.

Of course, Windows still dominates the data center. In the third quarter of 2011, Windows servers represented 49.7% of all factory revenue, compared to 18.6% for Linux servers, according to the IDC Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker. But Linux server growth outpaced that of Windows by a healthy margin, 12.3% compared to 5.3% for Windows. Linux won’t overtake Windows anytime soon, but with cloud on the horizon, the wind is at its back.

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