There's Nothing Mindblowing About Windows Releasing Its Own Linux OS

The power of open-source technology.

by Michael Byrne
Sep 26 2015, 10:00am

Image: Wikimedia

Something like 90 percent of all operating systems in usage across the world are a version of Windows, on average. Most of that share comes from consumer computers—e.g. desktops and laptops—but Windows also operates on an outsized portion of gaming consoles, web clients, and embedded systems. Windows can also be found powering around a third of all web servers.

The real Windows competition can be found in the realms of those servers and also supercomputers, where Linux systems dominate. As it turns out, when it comes to Linux (Unix, *nix), Microsoft is taking something of a if you can't beat them join them approach and employing the competing system to power some of the network infrastructure behind its Azure cloud service, according to a blog post posted this week by Azure networking principal architect Kamala Subramaniam.

A network switch is kind of just what it sounds like. It takes incoming data packets and distributes them appropriately to their intended destinations—sort of like a digital post office—providing both efficiency and security in the process. Switches are crucial to network malleability and this is where Windows employs Linux: the Azure Cloud Switch (ACS).

"[ACS] acts as a glue, de-coupling the hardware from the software interface," explains Janakiram MSV in a TechRepublic post.

The technology is there and its open-sourceness means that its development can be shared across a large group of users.

Increasingly, switching has become a software-defined task rather than a generic hardware task, which means data center/cloud systems need to be able to talk to wide range of different networking equipment/software. ACS does this by implementing an additional layer of abstraction called the Switch Abstraction Interface. This functions to hide the differences between the various pieces of hardware involved in the network, sort of like how the C language is able to directly manipulate hardware in a way that is also agnostic to that hardware—or, rather, as if it were all the same hardware.

"The Azure Cloud Switch (ACS) is our foray into building our own software for running network devices like switches," Subramaniam writes. "It is a cross-platform modular operating system for data center networking built on Linux. ACS allows us to debug, fix, and test software bugs much faster. It also allows us the flexibility to scale down the software and develop features that are required for our datacenter and our networking needs."

The media's collective mind seems to have been completely blown by the creation of a Windows Linux distribution, but it's really less of a if you can't beat them situation than a why would you bother? The technology is there and its open-sourceness means that its development can be shared across a large group of users. Some large part of open-source technology's power is just that: It focuses competition into collaboration.

"ACS believes in the power of Open Networking," Subramaniam declares. "ACS together with the open, standardized [Switch Abstraction Interface] allows us to exploit new hardware faster and enables us to ride the tide of ASIC innovation while simultaneously being able to operate on multiple platforms. Running on Linux, ACS is able to make use of its vibrant ecosystem."