Microsoft cuddles up to open source again, this time with containers

Microsoft's embrace of open source technology continues. Azure CTO Mark Russinovich explained to TechRepublic why container technology is the latest catalyst.

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Microsoft is no longer worried about catching the Linux "cancer." In fact, like any good underdog, it's actively embracing open source, particularly in its cloud business.

Not only has Microsoft built its Azure Cloud Switch on its own distribution of Linux, but the company is leveraging open source to power containerization, among other things.

However, cynics would argue Microsoft doesn't have much of a choice.

As giant global technology vendors build their clouds and put out the welcome mat for customers who want to run containers, they're all turning to open source. Google spun out its container orchestration IP, Kubernetes, into a non-profit open source project under the auspices of the Linux Foundation. Meanwhile Twitter, Apple, and others have turned to Apache Mesos, an open source cluster manager.

But in this, Microsoft isn't an unwilling follower. Last month Microsoft announced the Azure Container Service (ACS), an open source stack powered by Apache Mesos and open source bits of Mesosphere's Datacenter Operating System (DCOS) to manage containers on the Microsoft Azure cloud.

I spoke recently with Azure CTO Mark Russinovich about ACS to learn more.

TechRepublic: How is Microsoft's container vision different than other industry approaches to containers?

Russinovich: Like many others in the industry, Microsoft has turned to containerization for many reasons--among them, to bring developers new levels of application portability and agility, and to enable microservices-based delivery of software. We've been on the leading edge of this change, demonstrating a differentiated strategy that provides choice and flexibility across all clouds, whether public, private or hosted, and across multiple operating systems.

Our vision is that all developers, whether targeting Windows Server or Linux, be able to reap the benefits of containers, and we're making that a reality by contributing to open source projects directly, and partnering closely with community leaders in the space.

For example, just over a year ago, we announced a partnership with Docker to enable customers to manage and deploy multi-container applications using both Linux and Windows Server containers, regardless of the hosting environment or cloud provider. This was an evolution of the work we started by supporting Docker containers on Linux virtual machines on our cloud computing platform, Microsoft Azure.

Now, to address the challenges of managing containers in production, we also recently announced Azure Container Service, which leverages Docker, Apache Mesos and open source components of Mesosphere Datacenter Operating System (DCOS) to deliver a reliable, scalable environment for running container workloads. That service will be available in preview later this year.

TechRepublic: Open source is very important to your vision and strategy. Why?

Russinovich: As the CTO of Azure, for me it comes down to providing our customers with maximum flexibility and choice for their specific needs.

The reality is, today most companies are running mixed Windows and Linux environments, and many are using open source technologies. We want to make sure that Azure is a great place to run their workloads regardless of the technologies they choose.

For example, one in four Azure virtual machines today are on Linux--so for us, we are committed to making sure Linux works as a first-class citizen on the Azure platform. We're working across a range of programming languages and tools, like Git, Java, NodeJS, PHP, Python, Ruby and .NET. We also today support a wide variety of third-parties on Azure, like Chef, Cloud Foundry, Jelastic, Puppet, and many more.

This, of course, extends to our container strategy as well, where openness and choice are the cornerstones of our approach to containers in the industry, with the Azure Container Service serving as an example--the service couples our own cloud offering with open source Apache Mesos and Docker to deliver a foundation for container deployment, orchestration and management.

TechRepublic: Why was Apache Mesos selected as a key part of the solution? What attracted you?

Russinovich: Something like over 80% of the Fortune 500 today are Microsoft cloud customers, and as CTO I engage with many of these companies on a frequent basis.

One thing that became clear in those conversations is out of those enterprises who are moving from container evaluation to deployment, many of them had turned to Mesos to address the challenges of managing and deploying container applications. Other leaders across the Azure organization were noticing the same trend.

For us, that made it clear that Mesos should be our first supported orchestrator. On top of that, the openness and flexibility Mesos provides is a natural fit into our open-centric container strategy, as I mentioned before.

TechRepublic: You announced a collaboration with Mesosphere in this strategy. How does their DCOS fit into this container strategy?

Russinovich: Our Azure Container service uses open source components from Mesosphere's DCOS offering within it, such as Marathon for launching and scaling container apps and Chronos for distributed chron and batch workloads.

Beyond our container service though, we were already working with Mesosphere's DCOS on our Azure platform. Earlier this year at our Build conference, I showed how easy it is to launch a DCOS cluster on Azure and to deploy thousands of Docker containers to it in seconds. The demo really showcased the power and ease of containers at scale, and frankly the kinds of things that are becoming possible thanks to hyper-scale cloud platforms like Azure and technologies from partners like Mesosphere and Docker.

TechRepublic: What is Microsoft's vision for hybrid workloads of Linux and Windows? We've heard about early efforts to run Mesos on Windows Server. Are we moving towards a unified world?

Russinovich: Earlier, I mentioned how we want to bring the benefits of containers to everyone, whether Windows users or Linux users; public cloud users and private cloud users. Customers are asking for ways to unify their workloads across multiple diverse environments, and we're committed to supporting them.

As I talked about before, we showcased this commitment in multiple ways--across our new container service, through integration between Mesos and Azure, and also recently through demonstrating Mesos running on Windows Server, at their MesosCon conference earlier this year.

Through offering our customers choice and flexibility, we are enabling them to innovate faster--and everyone benefits from that.

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