What a difference 15 years makes. A little over 15 years ago to this month, Microsoft’s then-CEO Steve Ballmer called Linux a “cancer” due to intellectual property concerns at the time. It’s a commonly-held belief that Microsoft was at war with Linux as a result of the threat Linux posed to Windows Server.

However, 15 years later, Microsoft’s vice president of the Data Group, Joseph Sirosh, demoed SQL Server 2016 on Linux at the Red Hat Summit. We’ll get into the details of the demo shortly, but first it’s important to understand Microsoft’s focus on Azure and Linux, and how they influence the company’s data center strategy.

SEE: Ballmer: I may have called Linux a cancer but now I love it (ZDNet)

Microsoft’s Linux pivot

Microsoft’s original Azure strategy was confusing at first. When AWS was introducing the world to public cloud via infrastructure as a service (IaaS), Microsoft had this strange approach where you couldn’t even provision a Windows Server on Azure. Microsoft offered a platform as a service (PaaS) where developers built applications specifically for the Azure service. PaaS is all the rage now, and Azure was a bit before its time.

Microsoft has since offered a large variety of services on Azure, including individual operating system (OS) instances. Microsoft hasn’t limited OS selection to Windows Server. Microsoft embraces Linux at every level of Azure. To understand the difference, it helps to take a look at the Azure Market. There’s a wide variety of both standalone Linux instances and appliances based on Linux.

Last year, Microsoft signed a partnership agreement with Red Hat. The agreement promised to bring technologies and frameworks such as .NET to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Also, Red Hat promised support for technologies such as OpenShift on Azure.

Red Hat OpenShift is a PaaS platform built on Docker container technology and Kubernetes cluster management. Combining OpenShift with Azure results in developers being able to create applications directly on their laptops in a Docker container, then package and publish the application directly to Azure via OpenShift.

Microsoft has gone on to bring SQL Server 2016 to Linux. The SQL Server on Linux distribution is now in private preview, and what Microsoft demoed at the Red Hat Summit was nothing less than impressive.

Data center inception

SQL Server product manager Tobias Ternstrom joined Sirosh on stage at the Red Hat Summit as the pair tempted the demo gods. Ternstrom showed a demo of the SQL Server install on RHEL in about a minute. The shock came when Ternstrom explained the environment details of the infrastructure. The SQL Server was running in a Docker container, running on RHEL, running in Azure, and was managed by OpenShift.

What exactly does this mean for the Microsoft and RHEL customer? One advantage is that mutual clients have the flexibility to run both traditional and cloud-native RHEL applications in Microsoft public cloud. The other advantage is the hybrid cloud.

Microsoft’s AzureStack allows for extending Azure services to the customer’s private data center. As AzureStack matures, Red Hat customers inherit the ability to build location-aware applications using OpenShift. My expectation is OpenShift clustering will select the proper Azure service to run workloads based on data or process locality requirements.

I believe there’s little doubt. Microsoft loves Linux.