They’re doing what?? Microsoft open play

Lynn Greiner, freelance IT journalist and regular contributor to
Lynn Greiner, freelance IT journalist and regular contributor to

Microsoft has been startling people right and left this month, and Microsoft watchers are having a lot of fun. Or not, depending on their mindset.

The first coffee-spewing moment occurred when, out of the blue, the company announced that it would release SQL Server on (gasp) Linux. For people fixated on the old, Windows-only Microsoft, that was the equivalent of hell freezing over. The purveyor of a hugely popular (and lucrative) commercial operating system has decided to support an open source operating system? Inconceivable!

A day or two later, after a series of demonstrations at the customer launch event for SQL Server 2016, Joseph Sirosh, corporate VP of Microsoft’s data group, popped up a screen shot of the operating system the team had been running the demos on. Guess what: it wasn’t Windows, it was Ubuntu Linux.

Mind you, the impact was somewhat reduced when we were told exactly what the Linux version of the product contains. At the start, it will only offer core database functions, not all of the additional functionality, such as advanced analytics. And release date isn’t until mid-2017, though Microsoft will offer a preview that customers are invited to enroll in.

It’s still a big deal though. Running on Linux opens doors for Microsoft that would have otherwise have remained firmly shut. And the company is taking advantage of the situation by offering a deal to Oracle customers (many of whom already run some instances of SQL Server as well). On SQL Server 2016 launch day, it ran an ad inviting Oracle customers to switch to SQL Server, offering them free licenses to do so. The catch is that they need to subscribe to Microsoft’s Software Assurance program, which provides rights to new software releases and other perks. And if they do so before June 30, they will also get free training and subsidized deployment services. There’s already speculation that, with enough interest, the offer will be extended. Microsoft Canada president Janet Kennedy tells me that there have already been a number of inquiries.

Janet Kennedy, president, Microsoft Canada
Janet Kennedy, president, Microsoft Canada

Now that hell has frozen over, pigs are beginning to fly. Microsoft has not only started to release products on Linux, it has just joined the Eclipse Foundation as a Solutions Member. Eclipse is a not-for-profit community of individuals and organizations who collaborate on open source software that is commercially-friendly. It provides a free development environment, and currently sponsors about 300 projects for everything from a framework for distributed industrial automation and control, and a cloud development environment, to software development tools. The Eclipse IDE (integrated development environment) is a competitor to Microsoft’s Visual Studio, although plugins have been developed to let the two interoperate.

Microsoft has also contributed the code for its .NET Framework to open source, and its recent purchase of Xamarin, a mobile development company that also sponsors the Mono Project, an open source initiative that built tools to let developers use .NET on Linux, further reinforces its commitment to open source developers.

Next, there’s SONiC. No, not the hedgehog. It stands for Software for Open Networking in the Cloud, yet another contribution to open source from Microsoft. SONiC is a collection of software components that are used to build networking equipment. It runs run on various switching platforms via the Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI) specification. On Linux. Microsoft said in a blog post:

At Microsoft, we believe there are many excellent switch hardware platforms available on the market, with healthy competition between many vendors driving innovation, speed increases, and cost reductions. However, it is challenging to integrate the different software running on each different type of switch into a cloud-wide network management platform. Ideally, we would like all the benefits of the features we have implemented and the bugs we have fixed to remain intact, even as we ride the tide of newer switch hardware innovation.

SONiC allows us to share the same software stack across hardware from multiple switch vendors, together with SAI, a standardized C API for programming switching ASICs.

There is method to their madness. Kennedy said that she expects almost 40 percent of customers will be running Linux in Microsoft’s new Canadian datacentres, which have just opened for technical preview to a limited number of customers. Three months ago, it announced support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (and other distributions) on Azure, amid “huge” demand for it from banks and financial services. The shift to support more open source software simply reflects the realities of today’s business environment.

So those pigs fluttering above the icy plains of Hades not only have a great view, they’re looking down on the future. And that future includes open source and Linux as well as Windows.

It’s the only way to stay relevant in our heterogeneous world.


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