If Microsoft 'Loves Linux,' Why Not Red Hat? - InformationWeek

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Charles Babcock
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If Microsoft 'Loves Linux,' Why Not Red Hat?

Microsoft says it loves Linux. Enterprises love Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Is there a way to give this love triangle a happy ending?

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In the midst of talking Monday about the scale of the Microsoft Azure cloud and the variety of work it can do, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella paused to emphasize one thing: "Microsoft loves Linux. Twenty percent of Azure is already Linux. This something I want everyone to recognize."

The 20% was an interesting statistic among a stream of interesting stats announced at an event Monday in San Francisco. Twenty percent of Azure is already Linux because customers choose to run Linux workloads in Hyper-V virtual machines on Azure. Microsoft isn't saying 20% of its cloud hosts are running under Linux. As best I know, they are relentlessly Windows Server, and that isn't about to change.

Nevertheless, now we know. Microsoft loves Linux. If it's successfully disguised this fact for many years, it's now clear that it wants to play fair and embrace Linux workloads whenever possible. The fact that Linux is a first-class citizen on Azure reminds me of the sense of respect for open source code that I used to get when speaking to Microsoft technical people, as opposed to the bellicosity and belligerence from its top management. On the latter, throw in the legal department too.

Microsoft had a conflicted culture on open source. Over many years, the part of Microsoft that cultivated developers respected what open source had accomplished and wanted to compete with it. The legal department under general counsel Brad Smith and former CEO Steve Ballmer considered it a ruinous influence and sought non-technical means -- let's say patent intimidation -- to bludgeon it. In May 2007, Smith claimed the Linux kernel violated 42 Microsoft patents, and Linux as a whole violated 235 Microsoft patents.

[Want to learn more about Microsoft's patent threat? See Three Scenarios For How Microsoft Open Source Threat Could End.]

It then rounded up any Linux company with which it could offer sufficient enticements to do a patent deal. They included Novell's SUSE unit, and little Linux distributors, such as Xandos, Linspire, and LG Electronics.

At the time, it was estimated that it would cost a small company $5 million to defend itself if Microsoft decided to sue it for infringement. Despite that, the paucity of deals Microsoft achieved speaks volumes about the justness of its cause.

The only reason I bring up this unfortunate, ancient history is to illustrate the distance that Microsoft's current leadership has traveled to say "we love Linux." Today's Microsoft will create a virtual machine running Oracle Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise System, OpenSUSE, CentOS, or Ubuntu. At Monday's event, Microsoft added CoreOS to the mix, the slimmed-down Linux designed to run Linux containers.

During the Q&A period, InformationWeek asked why, if Microsoft loves Linux, is Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) still absent from the list? Although he never said so, it's widely believed Red Hat was Ballmer's original target, not Linspire or LG. And Red Hat never budged in its disbelief that Linux violated Windows patents. Is Microsoft still fighting that ancient nemesis?

Scott Guthrie, Microsoft's executive VP of Azure, answered: "We do have customers that run Red Hat Enterprise Linux on Azure," he said, but acknowledged that they do it on their own. Microsoft doesn't offer support for RHEL workloads. (And any existing service level agreement doesn't apply.)

Guthrie said Microsoft would like to see a change to that unsupported status, but didn't offer a clear response to the question, "What is the obstacle to running Red Hat Linux?"

"We will continue to work on that," he added somewhat ambiguously, at which point, Nadella, standing next to him during the Q&A, broke in with an unambiguous, "We'd welcome Red Hat in our cloud."

So what's going on here? If Microsoft would welcome additional Linux workloads in the form of Enterprise Linux, why isn't it supporting them? Nadella's response suggests it's not fully in Microsoft's ability to do so without cooperation from Red Hat.

Microsoft provides drivers to power Hyper-V virtual machines running Linux to the Linux kernel process, and they are duly incorporated so that Ubuntu, Oracle Linux, etc., can be supported Hyper-V operations. Does Red Hat strip them out of Enterprise Linux, rendering its version unsupportable on Azure? There are other possibilities where "a failure to communicate" could lead to a similar result.

I've raised this issue in private conversations with Microsoft technical people; they decline to speak for Red Hat.

So why can't RHEL be a supported system on Azure? It's the one many enterprises prefer to use when sending workloads to the cloud. Now that Microsoft loves Linux, is it time for a thaw in that chilly relationship between Microsoft and Red Hat?

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Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Apprentice
10/26/2014 | 1:48:18 AM
Plain and simple reason for the love
It is pretty obvious to many why Micsoroft "loves" Linux. This love could be compared to the love that the fox has for the hens in the hen house. Just imagine Microsoft keeping track of all of the Linux instances a company has in their Azure cloud, then at some point deciding to force, threaten, dare I say extort, them to license use of said Linux instances for infringment of patents, etc. Any takers on how easily this could happen?

The amount of money Microsoft currently collects from use of open source software has not been completely secret. Ballmer bragged about it. It has been reported to be in the $billions.

"Analysts have estimated that Microsoft receives billions of dollars a year in payments through licensing agreements with Android-device makers."

ref: New York Times "Bits"

Microsoft Sues Samsung Over Android Royalty Payments

So then why is it not plain to see why they love it, and also why RedHat may not be wanting so dearly to chummy up with them.
[email protected],
User Rank: Apprentice
10/23/2014 | 11:36:33 AM
Re: What's wrong here?
As you mentioned briefly in your article, SUSE Linux Enterprise IS fully supported in Azure.  In fact, you can get wither Basic or Priority support for a truly enterprise Linux.  In addition, you can create customized instances with SUSE Studio (susestudio.com) and publish them directly to Azure.

There is a supported, enterprise grade Linux RIGHT NOW in Azure, and it is SUSE Linux Enterprise.
Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
10/22/2014 | 2:47:51 PM
What's wrong here?
It's possible that there have been some confidential negotiations that Red Hat can't disclose that left the two companies at odds over support for RHEL on Azure, and Red Hat can't comment further publicly on the issue. But I'm not really buying that. Red Hat has plenty of good reasons to steer clear of cooperation with Microsoft, or disclosures about its Linux that it declines to make to Microsoft. But it ought to publicly state its position. Azure isn't going to go away, nor is the desire to run supported RHEL workloads there. If Red Hat was once bound to silence, the new CEO of Microsoft has said he would "welcome" Red Hat's Enterprise Linux enjoying full technical support there. So what's the obstacle?
Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
10/22/2014 | 2:33:51 PM
Red Hat responds: "Not able to comment publicly"
Red Hat spokesmen issued a comment in response Nadella's comments cited here: "While we can imagine that a partnership, which respects each party's business model and open source, could be possible for Red Hat technologies on Azure, we are not able to comment publicly on the topic." An additional comment was offered that a partnership is already in place to certify and support RHEL running on Hyper-V. It also certfies Red Hat's virtualization management system, Enterprise Virtualization, running on Windows Server. I would add that these two "cooperative" certifications do not add up to technical support for a customer's workload running on Azure, even though they help make it technically possible. Some customers run Red Hat Linux on Azure, unsupported.


User Rank: Ninja
10/22/2014 | 12:04:48 PM
MS loves "legitimate" Linux
In the case of SUSE, the distributor had a patent license, last I checked; I don't know about the others that are supported, but I have to infer that MS, for whatever reason, does not consider RHEL to be a legitimate product.

To this day, MS has yet to provide details of its patent claims against Linux (broadly defined), yet demands royalties from Android vendors for reasons it doesn't allow said vendors to disclose (and refuses to disclose itself).  As long as these practices continue, one can count on myself any many other Linux users to be suspicious.  Thus, if Satya Nadella wants to alleviate the mistrust, the best things he could do would be:

1.  Offer Brad Smith early retirement and strongly suggest that he take it.

2.  Publish all of the patent claims against Linux for all to see and scrutinize.

3.  Release the Android vendors currently paying royalties to MS from their NDAs.

User Rank: Apprentice
10/22/2014 | 7:26:04 AM
Re: MS and Red Hat
Credibility that Microsoft (heart) Linux
User Rank: Author
10/21/2014 | 2:23:49 PM
MS and Red Hat
"Microsoft doesn't offer support for RHEL workloads." These wink and nod situations drive IT crazy. Do you think the situation could change Charlie? Does MS really have much to gain by adding that support?
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