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Windows Azure cloud to embrace Linux OS

Microsoft often has been seen as opposed to any operating system that isn’t Windows — particularly Linux. However, Redmond has been changing its attitude, in some cases even going out of its way to make room at the table for the open source OS.

In fact, if recent rumors are borne out, the company will soon add Linux to the list of OSEs that Windows Azure public cloud platform supports.

According to reports from Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft is adding support for Linux in addition to Windows Server in Windows Azure’s so-called Virtual Machine (VM) role, along with other upcoming changes to its Windows Azure public cloud offering.

It will do that in part to meet the demands of larger customers who have apparently been leaning on the company over the fact that heterogeneous data centers are the rule, not the exception. Linux is a fact of life, not something to be ignored, even in the cloud.

Additionally, and perhaps a little ironically, Azure does not support several key Microsoft applications, including SharePoint Server, SQL Server, Small Business Server and Terminal Server.

The VM role has been in beta for months. It provides an easy and quick way to move an application onto Azure by simply loading it as a Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) image into a VM role. Microsoft points to the VM role as a way to run legacy applications on Azure.

However, the VM role doesn’t currently persist application states nor does it support Linux.

Microsoft architects had apparently expected customers to build their applications on Azure’s Platform as a Service (PaaS) APIs. Writing apps from scratch is more work than running them in VMs.

“If Microsoft makes VMs stateless and even lets Linux VMs load, it would address some of [its] issues with Amazon [and other PaaS purveyors],” said Rob Sanfilippo, research vice president at analyst firm Directions on Microsoft.

If this is true, the move could help Microsoft’s public cloud story with enterprise IT.

“It’s the first non-Windows server supported by Azure [and] it broadens their offering …. If you really want to get the most out of Azure, a lot of organizations really just want to move their applications to the cloud,” Sanfilippo added.

The updated VM role capability with support for Linux and preserving application state is set to go into community technology preview, or CTP, in late March, said Foley.

Microsoft declined to comment on pending Azure futures and has not made any announcements regarding hosting Linux on Azure.

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