Microsoft Embraces Linux Virtual Appliances
In a very savvy move aimed at gaining competitive advantage in the cloud computing space, Microsoft yesterday announced that they were contributing source code to the Linux kernel in order to optimize the performance and management of virtual appliances on Microsoft's hypervisor, Hyper-V. One of the goals of cloud computing is elasticity – applications scale up and down based upon the hour by hour demand for the application. Well, you cannot have hour by hour elasticity for an application when it takes days/weeks/months to install, provision, and instrument the application onto the infrastructure. Virtual appliances eliminate this challenge by allowing the application owner to pre-configure the application as a set of virtual machines that are ready to respond to demand. The “set-up” is done “off-line.” Microsoft, realizing that Linux is the de facto underpinning for virtual appliances that run on Amazon's EC2, is now contributing code to Linux that will optimize the performance and management characteristics of Linux-based virtual appliances on Hyper-V – the virtualization technology that underpins Microsoft's Azure cloud.
Microsoft's new status as a Linux kernel contributor sheds light on the amazing shift that is occurring in the battle-lines for IT infrastructure. The operating system is going to split, with one half becoming the control software for the hardware (the hypervisor) and the other becoming the control software for the application (virtual appliances). Given their huge advantage with developers based upon the installed base of applications that run on Microsoft-only application frameworks (.Net, etc.), Microsoft has determined that they need to pull out all of the stops in order to be certain they do not get ripped off the hardware in favor of VMware (the dominant hypervisor) or Xen (the hypervisor that supports Amazon's market leading cloud service). Linux is no longer the biggest threat to Microsoft in the datacenter when datacenters begin embracing a cloud architecture such as Amazon's in order to enable IT-as-a-Service.
If indeed this move enables higher elasticity and simpler management of Linux based virtual appliances that run atop Hyper-V, the competitive pressure might force VMware to follow suite and make their drivers and tools available as source code that is included in the Linux kernel. To be clear, Microsoft does not currently plan to support Linux virtual appliances on Azure, but that position may be shifting with changes of this type. With Amazon currently holding the dominant position in cloud and with VMware holding the dominant position in the datacenter for virtualization, Microsoft might have lots of crafty tricks up its sleeve to re-assert themselves in this new theater of datacenter war where hypervisors and virtual appliances rule the day.