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Microsoft demonstrates its Linux-based Azure Cloud Switch operating system

Microsoft has built a Linux-based operating system for datacenter switches. Does this mean a Microsoft Linux distribution is just around the corner? Um... no.

Microsoft has built a Linux-based cross-platform operating system for running network devices like datacenter switches.

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Company officials provided information about that operating system, known as Azure Cloud Switch (ACS), in a September 17 blog post. Microsoft also demonstrated ACS at the recent SIGCOMM conference in August, showing off the work it is doing around providing a standards-based way to write to application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) that are inside devices like datacenter switches.

(Microsoft's architectural diagram of ACS is embedded above in this post.)

So does this mean a Microsoft Linux distribution will be available users in the not-too-distant future? In spite of headlines you may have read claiming that's the case, the answer is no.

ACS is built around the Open Compute Project's Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI), which is the standards C application programming interface for programming ASICs. It's software for running network devices like switches. The Open Compute Project accepted the SAI specification -- contributed by Microsoft and other contributors including Mellanox, Dell, Broadcom, Cavium, Barefoot, and Metaswitch -- in July 2015.

ACS is for internal use only, a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed when I asked. ACS is the showcase for Microsoft's approach toward disaggregating switch software from switch hardware. The company is contributing the code for ACS to the Open Compute Project.

Microsoft joined the Open Compute Project (OCP) in 2014, and is a founding member of and contributor to the organization's SAI project. The OCP is a foundation created by Facebook in 2011 that publishes open hardware designs intended to be used to build datacentres relatively cheaply.

When Microsoft joined OCP, company officials said Microsoft would be contributing to the project its Microsoft cloud server specification -- a 12U shared server chassis capable of housing 24 1U servers -- as well as releasing its Chassis Manager under the open-source Apache licence

The OCP has already released specifications for motherboards, chipsets, cabling, and common sockets, connectors and open networking and switches.