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Has Linux Conquered the Cloud?

Has Linux Conquered the Cloud?

Perhaps the real indicator for long-term cloud dominance is what is driving customers to select Linux. Linux and open source really are driving movement away from proprietary software, according to Open Source Storage founder Eren Niazi. "The first to market usually gets the control. Linux was the first platform in the clouds. Linux developers already have the cloud space controlled pretty well."

By Jack M. Germain LinuxInsider ECT News Network
02/12/14 7:32 PM PT

Linux on the desktop may have missed its adoption time line, but Linux in the cloud is a win-win proposition for the post-PC movement.

Linux shows signs that it is the go-to cloud platform. Microsoft's Azure may be the only real threat to Linux cloud dominance -- all other major cloud software platforms are based on Linux and open source software.

Some enterprise Linux distros are showing up as cloud-based offerings. It is becoming very common to find options to run Ubuntu, CentOS, Suse Linux Enterprise Server and openSuse offered on cloud platforms. Even better for Linux fans is that Microsoft includes openSuse as an option to run on its own Azure platform.

"Linux has already conquered the public cloud. With the exception of Azure, all of the other dominant public clouds run both compute and storage on Linux. And for virtual machines running in the cloud, it's all Linux, including Azure," Ross Turk, vice president of community at Inktank, told LinuxInsider.

Thumbs Up for Linux

The only challenge left for Linux to fully conquer the cloud is in the private and hybrid sectors. Private cloud technology like OpenStack is pushing Linux kernel-based virtual machines, or KVMs, on the compute side and challenging VMware's position, asserted Turk.

"However, when you consider the entire cloud -- compute, work and storage -- open source still needs to win on the storage and networking side," he said.

Storage is the last bastion of proprietary technology in the data center. It accounts for a very large portion of IT spending. However, Linux has disrupted the operating system and database markets with its benefits of cost savings, no vendor lock-in and rapid innovation.

"These all have been monumental in its rise to dominance, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the rest of the cloud," said Turk.

No Real Contest

The fight for cloud supremacy may be done and won. Especially for providers, the bottom line is Linux, according to Ryan Koop, director of products and marketing at CohesiveFT.

"Of course, all the private cloud software offerings will allow for bare metal provisioning at some point. That is more about leveraging existing resources inside someone's data center and closing a sale. Public cloud will keep rolling on hypervisors for ease of implementation, cost savings/margin, ease of management," Koop told LinuxInsider.

Linux's cloud success story extends to noncommercial versions including Ubuntu, Debian andCentOS, which are more prominent than Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Suse Linux Enterprise Server, in Koop's view. For example, CohesiveFT built its networking product on Ubuntu.

Competitive Edge

Support.com recently took the Linux cloud challenge by shifting its own Nexus Service Platform to Linux-based technologies.

That determination was based on reasons other businesses should consider when making cloud platform decisions, said Doug Collier, vice president of engineering at Support.com. Those factors include affordability, existing high-quality open source software, and a vast open source community to support and push the pace of cloud technologies forward.

Some of the existing open source tools already at play in the cloud are the Linux OS, Nginx Web server and reverse proxy PostgreSQL database, Redis NoSQL database, and prepackaged modules available on npmjs.org, Collier told LinuxInsider.

Inside Secret

In areas where Linux already was strong on the ground, it has remained strong in the cloud. Over time, there will be some erosion of Microsoft's presence at the platform level and above, predicted Josh Shane, vice president of strategy and business design for Viewstream. No newcomer to Linux, in a prior position he worked with Linux creator Linus Torvalds.

"Certainly I do not think there will be anything out there besides Azure succeeding at the infrastructure level that has anything to do with Windows besides Linux -- at least in the short term," Shane told LinuxInsider.

Azure grew from Microsoft's original plan of going out with a Windows platform and expecting everyone to jump on board. What it very quickly found out was what everyone else already knew: When you work with Fortune 1,000 or Fortune 5,000 clients, you see that not every software or middleware application is Windows-based, he noted.

Linux Flexibility

Microsoft realized that it had to be able to serve both Windows clients and Linux users, and the way to do that was at the infrastructure level. Microsoft has developed a really effective cloud OS -- but it does not yet have the clout that Amazon does, explained Shane.

Microsoft's dilemma is that you just cannot offer Windows as a Platform and say, "Tada, we're done. We've served our enterprise client."

Instead, Microsoft realized that it had to offer infrastructure in a really robust way so that Windows products run really well along with customers that run Linux, according to Shane.

"Everyone does run some Linux. Some enterprises run the Linux OS with a database. Others run Linux as the basis for some of their in-house private enterprise applications they build themselves. With Google coming on and IBM moving forward, there is really no doubt that Linux has the lion's share of the cloud providers. But I think it remains to be seen if the application layer shifts over to the Linux side in the way some people have expected," he observed.

A Rose by any Other Name

Is Linux purity a cloud issue? The crux comes down to terminology. If you consider the options in virtualizing hardware using Google and Amazon and other providers, you can call it a two-player field between Microsoft Azure and Linux, according to Shane.

"You can include the virtualized level of the infrastructure. Hardware nodes and that whole level carry a lot of Linux code -- but the code is highly tweaked because they are open source. That is the real advantage to Linux. You can use it to solve custom infrastructure problems because you have access to the source code," he said.

Another aspect of the pure-Linux in the cloud debate is the appearance of BSD -- a Unix OS -- at this level. So the question becomes, do you want to count that as Linux too? BSD is very close to Linux.

Code's the Thing

It really is all about being able to drive customization through access to the code. When it comes to Microsoft, you really cannot do that, insisted Shane.

"It is all the same problems that we have seen. The difference is that what used to be just Linux on the desktop gave users no way to squeeze out efficiency because it was such a distributed model. But with the more centralized cloud model, the incentives get really efficient with the ability to squeeze the capabilities of all the various infrastructure and platform layers really [coming] to the fore. That is where Linux has a huge benefit for any third-party," Shane said.

So, is Amazon Linux? Sure -- but a lot of what it serves is still Windows. So how do you quantify that?

Cloud Counting

Determining the user installed base used to be easy: Just determine what OS customers use on the hardware. That was easy to measure. Now we do not measure on hardware because all of the hardware is virtualized.

"So now you could also make the claim that VMware owns the cloud or Hypervisor, or any of these virtualization companies are really the backbone of the cloud. On top of that, you have to consider what the users want or need. Do people care that what they are using really runs on Linux? I doubt it," said Shane.

The benefit is more about what the license is than what the OS is. Linux is creeping toward cloud supremacy now, as Shane sees it.

Windows still seems to have a dominant role only because IT managers are not suddenly going to switch away from what they are used to, he suggested.

A Driving Factor

Perhaps the real indicator for long-term cloud dominance is what is driving customers to select Linux. Linux and open source really are driving movement away from proprietary software, according to Eren Niazi, founder of Open Source Storage.

"With growing Linux in the cloud space, the first to market usually gets the control. Linux was the first platform in the clouds. Linux developers already have the cloud space controlled pretty well," Niazi told LinuxInsider.

To illustrate his point, Niazi recounted when he was at the Microsoft Data Centers. He walked in one day and found that the Microsoft workers were running Hotmail on Linux.

"I said to the Microsoft staff there, 'You are running the world's largest email system on Linux?' They replied, 'Yes, but it is a secret,'" he recalled.

Growth Factor

Linux in this era of cloud computing definitely is making high-impact headway in the operating systems space, offered Jiten Patil, principal cloud expert & technology consultant at Persistent Systems.

That growth can be attributed to a common characteristic shared by both Linux and cloud computing, he said.

"They share a fundamental scale-out philosophy over a scale-up architecture. Linux, for obvious reasons, has become the natural choice for many to explore and exploit cloud computing potential further," Patil told LinuxInsider.

Linux is the operating system that serves Web-scale applications better. As such, it is now in the dominant position to drive cloud platforms that are basically born from the idea of serving very scalable systems in both the Web world and the enterprise environment, he explained.

Liking Linux

Several factors are making Linux the go-to cloud OS, added Stephen Pao, general manager for security business at Barracuda Networks.

Three factors are pushing Linux to prominence in the cloud: no licensing issues on a per unit or per core basis; easy hardening of Linux to make very secure systems; the fact that Linux is a platform of choice for virtual appliances, he told LinuxInsider. "Linux allows you to cloud-scale your public cloud just the way you want."


Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him on Google+.


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