Linux Becomes The Most Used Operating System On Azure Cloud-Based Enterprise Solutions, But Microsoft Isn’t Worried

Linux is now the most used Operating System (OS) on Microsoft Azure. The cloud-based enterprise solutions service belongs to Microsoft, a maker of Windows OS. Linux’s meteoric rise in usage against Microsoft’s own operating system is surprisingly seen as an exceptionally good thing by senior executives in Microsoft. In other words, the rising use of Linux on Microsoft Azure is expected to benefit not only developers and system administrators, but it will also help Microsoft as a company. Incidentally, Microsoft has shown increasing affinity towards Linux in the recent past and has been actively supporting the open-source operating system. Hence, could the latest development be merely an important statistic or could it be considered as a pivotal yardstick?

Almost four years ago, Mark Russinovich, Azure CTO, Microsoft’s cloud had noted that “One in four [Azure] instances are Linux.” In other words, almost 25 percent of Azure users were relying on some flavor or distro of Linux operating system. In 2017, this figure jumped to 40 percent. Then at the end of 2018, Scott Guthrie, Microsoft’s executive VP of the cloud and enterprise group, reportedly said about 50 percent of Azure Virtual Machines (VM) were Linux-based. Starting this month, Linux Virtual Machines have surpassed Windows Virtual Machines on Azure. Sasha Levin, Microsoft Linux kernel developer, confirmed this important milestone while putting forth a request that Microsoft be allowed to join a Linux security list.

What the numbers essentially mean is that Azure, a highly powerful remote cloud-based solutions provider, now experiences or processes more requests that are initiated using Linux. This does not mean Windows machines are failing. The numbers merely indicate that Azure is actively processing higher instances of processes that are run on Linux. Interestingly, it’s not just Microsoft’s Azure customers who are actively switching to Linux. Native Azure services are often running on Linux. For example, Azure’s Software Defined Network (SDN) is based on Linux. In simple words, several internal software components of Microsoft Azure are being run natively on Linux. What this means is Microsoft itself is opting for Linux over its own Windows Server in quite a few scenarios.

Why Linux Use Is Surpassing Windows OS on Microsoft Azure?

While the rising use of Linux on Microsoft Azure might be perceived as a threat to the Windows operating system, it is clearly not. In other words, Microsoft isn’t worried about the exponential rise of Linux on its cloud-based enterprise solutions platform. In fact, Microsoft appears to be welcoming the change. Moreover, it is ensuring that any and all instances running on Microsoft’s Azure are run without a glitch, be it from a Windows VM or Linux VM. “Microsoft is building more of these services.”

While speaking about the developments, Scott Guthrie, Microsoft’s executive vice president of the cloud and enterprise group reportedly said, “Every month, Linux goes up. Native Azure services are often running on Linux.”

The simple reason why Linux VMs are surpassing those running on Windows is that Linux is the preferred operating system in enterprise computing. While the world of personal computing may be currently dominated by Windows OS, the world over, Linux remains the first choice for companies and back-end developers and system administrators. According to most recent IDC Worldwide Operating Systems and Subsystems Market Shares, Linux had 68% of the enterprise market in 2017. This number has only risen exponentially.

Hence it was only a matter of time for Linux usage to surpass Windows. Incidentally, Microsoft does offer a Windows Server operating system that’s specifically developed to meet the needs of enterprises. Moreover, it allocates substantial resources to develop and update the operating system. However, even with the backing of Microsoft, Windows Server simply cannot keep up with Linux in the backend of the corporate world.

As mentioned above, Microsoft itself is relying on Linux in several cases. In essence, everyone, including Microsoft is switching to Linux and open-source software. Explaining the seemingly strange phenomenon, Guthrie said, “Microsoft is building more of these services. It started more than 10 years ago when we open-sourced ASP.NET. We recognized open source is something that every developer can benefit from. It’s not nice, it’s essential. It’s not just code, it’s a community.”

Microsoft Is Now The World’s Largest Open-Source Project Supporter

Microsoft’s rising affinity towards Linux has been quite apparent for some time. The company recently started offering a full Linux kernel with Windows 10, its latest operating system that succeeded Windows 8.1. The custom-built Linux kernel developed entirely in-house at Microsoft ensured full system call compatibility. The kernel interfaces with a user-space selected by the user. In other words, a Windows 10 user could easily download and install a Linux distro directly from Microsoft Windows Store. Alternatively, the users could also “sideloaded” a distro through the creation of a custom distribution package.

Speaking of Linux distro available on Microsoft Store, Arch Linux, SUSE, Ubuntu are some of the most popular. Apart from these, there are now at least eight Linux distros available on Azure. Interestingly, there’s also Azure Sphere, Microsoft’s own Linux distro optimized to run on Microsoft Azure platform. Azure Sphere is essentially a software and hardware stack designed to secure edge devices, which includes a “custom Linux kernel”. Combined with the recent acquisition of popular software and developer code repository GitHub, Microsoft can confidently claim to be the world’s largest open-source project supporter.

While Windows Server may not go completely out of use, Linux has firmly established itself as the preferred operating system for business. Moreover, it is amply clear that Microsoft is not fighting the transition at all. In fact, the Window OS maker appears to be wholeheartedly supporting the developers who prefer Linux. As long as an increasing number of developers, system admins, website managers, and enterprises flock to Microsoft’s Azure instead of going to Amazon Web Service (AWS) or similar other platforms, the company surely stands to gain from rising Linux use.


Alap Naik Desai

A B.Tech Plastics (UDCT) and a Windows enthusiast. Optimizing the OS, exploring software, searching and deploying solutions to strange and weird issues is Alap's main interest.
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