Redmond’s revealed that it’s built something called Azure Cloud Switch (ACS), describing it as “a cross-platform modular operating system for data center networking built on Linux” and “our foray into building our own software for running network devices like switches”.
The fact that Microsoft has decided to use Linux for this objective is notable, but Subramaniam explained that this allows the firm to make use of the vibrant Linux ecosystem and “use and extend open source, Microsoft and third-party applications” in its network hardware. It also means networking switches can be managed the same way servers are, “with weekly software rollouts and roll-backs, thus ensuring a mature configuration and deployment model”.
“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”, she said.
So while it might be a bit hard to swallow the proclamation by current Microsoft chief Satya Nadella that “Microsoft loves Linux”, the company certainly is willing to exploit open source software whenever useful.
Ballmer and Bill Gates even recorded a weird parody of “The Matrix” where they took potshots at Linux, claiming it was too hard for non-technical people to use (which wasn’t exactly wrong). Microsoft had an internal “Linux compete” initiative with strategies to combat the operating system in all sorts of ways, from product to marketing.
Linux, created in the early 1990s by incredibly influential programming firebrand Linus Torvalds and further developed by a veritable army of volunteers from around the world, never quite toppled the dominance of Microsoft Windows on the desktop. “ACS allows us to debug, fix, and test software bugs much faster”, says Kamala Subramaniam, Principal Architect, Azure Networking.
If you’re interested in the technical deep dive into ACS, you’ll find it on the Microsoft Azure blog. She points out that, “It also allows us the flexibility to scale down the software and develop features that are required for our datacenter and our networking needs”. Facebook has open sourced its FBOSS open switching system, but this is really more a set of applications riding atop a Linux-based open networking operating system, much like the application layer in Microsoft’s Azure Cloud Switch stack.
That’s where Microsoft also recognizes the true value of openness and standards. Is this a good move for Microsoft?