Microsoft to enable Linux on its Windows Azure cloud in 2012

Microsoft is preparing to launch a new persistent virtual machine feature on its Azure cloud platform, enabling customers to host Linux, SharePoint and SQL Server there.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

This headline is not an error. I didn't have one too many craft brews over the New Year's weekend.

Microsoft is poised to enable customers to make virtual machines (VMs) persistent on Windows Azure, I've heard from a handful of my contacts who've asked not to be identified.

What does this mean? Customers who want to run Windows or Linux "durably" (i.e., without losing state) in VMs on Microsoft's Azure platform-as-a-service platform will be able to do so. Microsoft is planning to launch a Community Technology Preview (CTP) test-build of the persistent VM capability in the spring of 2012, according to partners briefed by the company.

The new persistent VM support also will allow customers to run SQL Server or SharePoint Server in VMs, as well. And it will enable customers to more easily move existing apps to the Azure platform.

Windows Azure already has support for a VM role, but it's not very useful at the moment. (I guess that explains Microsoft officials' reticence to comment on any of my questions about Azure's VM role support, in spite of my repeated requests.)

"The current VM role when rebooted or randomly recycled by the Azure platform loses any data stored -- any persistence. So for applications that rely on the machine name or files/config that constitute "state" not stored in SQL Azure (or externally), this is a problem. This is also one of the technical reasons why you wouldn't try running SharePoint on the current Azure VM role," explained one partner, who requested anonymity.

To date, Microsoft has been balking at customer requests to add persistent VMs to Azure, hoping to get customers to develop Azure apps from scratch instead. But the lack of the ability to host apps like SharePoint and other third-party business applications with persistence was a deal breaker for a number of business users who were unwilling to consider Azure until Microsoft added this support, one of my contacts said.

Running Linux on Azure has been a surprisingly big  business-customer request, as well, my contacts said. Microsoft won't be supporting Linux once the late-March persistent VM CTP launches; instead, it will be up to customers to provide uploads of their own Linux images, I heard from my contacts. Microsoft plans to tout the persistent VM capability on Azure as providing users with an easy on-ramp to its cloud platform, as they can start with the apps they already have and host them without a lot of reworking.

The Register reported earlier this year that Microsoft was testing the ability to run Linux on Azure in its own labs, and that the launch of such a capability was still months away.

I've asked Microsoft to confirm its upcoming persistent VM plans, but I'm not holding my breath. Update on January 3: A Microsoft spokesperson said the company would not comment on "rumors." But it sure seems like the information is on the money, given this Microsoft solutions architect for Windows Azure's reaction:

If you are still a doubter that this is coming, here's a snippet from an Azure roadmap that one of my contacts shared with me which mentions the capability:

(Click on snippet to enlarge)

Microsoft cloud competitor Amazon already offers the ability to run different operating systems, including Windows, SQL Server, and Linux, on its EC2 infrastructure-as-a-service platform.

Does Microsoft's pending infrastructure-as-a-service addition of a persistent VM make you any more interested in Windows Azure?

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