Linux on Azure? How Microsoft Learned to Love Open Source

“Microsoft doesn’t play well with Linux.”

Like a lot of people familiar with Linux, that’s what I used to think. Who wouldn’t? Even to the most uninitiated enduser, open source computing would seem to serve no other purpose than to undercut the economic viability of a commercial software giant. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer nearly said as much when comparing open source distributions in very unfavorable terms back in 2001.

So what changed?

Like any successful business, Microsoft responded to that great engine of progress: customer demand. Businesses increasingly sought to combine the affordability and flexibility of Linux distributions with the power and reliability of a stable platform to meet their unique business challenges.

Beneficial and necessary

Enter Microsoft’s Azure platform, which among its numerous virtues, was purpose-built to “democratize” access to a variety of cloud capabilities, allowing businesses to bring their desired suite of open source services to the Azure cloud platform without having to overhaul their current solution. Today, with approximately 40 percent of Azure VMs running Linux distributions, it’s easy to see how cooperation between these once-competing platforms is both beneficial and necessary.

Today, every time a new product is rolled out on Azure, it’s almost always released on both Linux and Windows at the same time. In some cases, the Microsoft development teams verify Linux products work even before their Windows counterparts. (Looking at you, cloud serial console!) I’ve found Microsoft has enhanced existing Linux features rather than replace them with the Azure portal. Here are some examples:

  • Patching. Anyone who has worked in enterprise has come across RedHat at some point or another. Likely, you are familiar with their yum system and patching/installing packages. Traditionally this is done manually or through crons, or if you can afford it, via a satellite server to push updates rather than pull them. Microsoft has added a front-end web console that shows you available patches, categorized and separated in an easy-to-filter way and available from any web browser that can reach the Azure portal. The whole system uses yum, but Microsoft has enhanced the features already there.
  • Azure Active Directory (AD) integration. If you know how to join Linux servers to domains using OpenLDAP or SSSD, then you know both can be hard to configure and manage. On Azure, a Windows server (or even home laptop) can join to your Azure managed AD environment. Microsoft rolled out this same feature for Linux at the same time as the Windows machines.
  • Azure Command-Line Interface (CLI). As expected from most cloud providers today, all the features offered through the portal are usually available via webcall of some kind. Not forcing a change of tools, Microsoft has extended this into commandline tools Linux admins are comfortable with — often more powerful than what’s in the portal. The entire project lives on GitHub, and is integrated in the Azure portal so doesn’t need to be installed locally. It even has a Docker release for those who don’t want to install Python packages locally. And best of all, it has bash auto completion. So basically, it makes everything about working with Azure feel like it was made for Linux out of the box.

Other great things Microsoft is doing with Linux include: Kubernetes as a Service, MySQL as a Service, Syslog aggregation and desired state configuration on Linux (for free!). Even the Azure automation portal has a section for running Python scripts instead of PowerShell.

My entire experience with this “new” Microsoft has been a pleasant surprise. If any Linux users out there are on the fence like I was about giving Linux on Azure a try, I’d encourage you to kick the tires with your favorite OS. You’ll be surprised what you’ll find in the Marketplace images.

Rackspace knows Linux, too

Rackspace has a strong relationship with Microsoft and many Linux partners, including RedHat, Oracle and MySQL. We employ hundreds of engineers, like myself, fluent in Microsoft and Linux technologies. Whatever you want to do with your cloud, our certified experts have probably done it before. Our 160+ RedHat professional are waiting to help.  We have the experience and expertise to help you with your Azure workloads, regardless if they are Windows- or Linux-based.

To learn more about our support of Linux technologies on Azure, check out our on-demand webinar, which explores Azure update management, details additional Linux web apps on Azure and discusses MySQL-as-a-Service.

Matthew LaBarre is the Principle Product Manager at Rackspace for the Fanatical Support for Azure service. Matthew has worked at Rackspace for the past 11 years during which he has held a wide variety of positions, beginning his time at Rackspace as a Linux Systems Administrator and recently returning back to headquarters from an assignment to build out Rackspace’s Australia and New Zealand businesses. Matthew is a passionate technologist who loves understanding how our customers can leverage Rackspace’s unique model of combining an obsessive focus on customer service with best-in-class technologies.

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