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Azure Cloud: Beyond Windows-Only IT Shops

Here's why some Linux administrators will feel at home within Microsoft's Azure cloud ecosystem.
Cloud Computing: 8 Hidden Costs
Cloud Computing: 8 Hidden Costs
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Considering that Azure is a Microsoft-operated cloud, one would assume that the cloud platform would heavily favor the Windows Server operating system. But, as with all other major cloud providers, Linux Virtual Machines can also be spun up within the Azure cloud.

This raises a couple of questions: Is Azure truly meant for Windows-only IT shops? Can organizations with a healthy mixture of Windows and Linux servers get along inside Azure?

Since 2012, Azure has supported at least a limited number of Linux distributions. But the cloud platform built and managed by Microsoft was clearly designed for -- and offered the most features and functionality -- when Windows VMs were used. There were certainly times when Linux VMs came into the discussion in the past where I would have said Azure was not a competitive cloud platform.

Yet slowly but surely Microsoft's cloud platform is embracing Linux on a much broader scale, even to the point where Linux administrators may feel at home within the Azure ecosystem.

[ What else is in store from Redmond this year? Read Beyond Windows 10: 6 Microsoft Releases To Watch. ]

Whether you look at Microsoft's own Azure Marketplace, DYI community images found in the Azure VMDepot, development tools, or enterprise-class databases that run on Linux platforms, the range of access to Linux VMs on Azure is becoming quite robust. Sure, it's not as robust as competing Infrastructure-as-a-Service/Platform-as-a-Service options, but progress is being made.

Another sign that Microsoft is further embracing Linux within its Azure cloud was the announcement last month that the company will offer expanded Linux and OSS support for customers running on Azure. This support includes installation and configuration, as well as performance and networking support beyond simply eliminating the Azure platform from being the root cause of the problem.

I've heard complaints from some Linux administrators that Microsoft still hasn't gone far enough to support the Linux community. Others tell me that the idea of running Linux on a Microsoft cloud is simply out of the question. If you are a heavy Linux shop, then Azure probably still isn't for you. However, if you run a mixed Windows/Linux environment, up to an 80/20 split, it's worth considering Azure as a viable option, as long as you verify that the distributions you need are at least minimally supported by Microsoft.

Freedom to choose your OS environment in the cloud is an advantage that competitors such as AWS and Google have maintained over Azure. But Microsoft's new vision, communicated earlier this year by CEO Satya Nadella, shows that Azure must close the choice gap with competing cloud providers in order to grow and expand beyond Windows-only IT shops. There will be significant hurdles to overcome -- both from a technical and public relations standpoint -- but Microsoft is at least taking the first steps with Azure.