Microsoft releases 20,000 lines of code to Linux community

21 Jul 2009

In a pretty seismic break from tradition, Microsoft has for the first time ever released 20,000 lines of driver code to the Linux community to enhance the performance of the Linux operating system when virtualised on its server platforms.

The code, which includes three Linux device drivers, has been submitted to the Linux kernel community for inclusion in the Linux tree.

The drivers will be available to the Linux community and customers alike, and will enhance the performance of the Linux operating system when virtualised on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V or Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V.

“We are seeing Microsoft communities and open-source communities grow together, which is ultimately of benefit to our customers,” explained Sam Ramji, senior director of Platform Strategy in Microsoft’s Server and Tools organisation.

“The Linux community, for example, has built a platform used by many customers. So our strategy is to enhance interoperability between the Windows platform and many open-source technologies, which includes Linux, to provide the choices our customers are asking for.

“A central part of our strategy is the work done in the [Microsoft] Open Source Technology Center (OSTC), which we opened about three years ago. The OSTC has a deep technical expertise in Linux, UNIX and open-source technologies, along with strong social connections into open source communities.

“We have learned a great deal from the various community leaders about how to effectively work together, and are eager to continue the dialogue,” Ramji added.

The move is a significant milestone because it’s the first time Microsoft has released code directly to the Linux community. The company is releasing the code under the GPLv2 licence, which is the Linux community’s preferred licence.

“Our initial goal in developing the code was to enable Linux to run as a virtual machine on top of Hyper-V, Microsoft’s hypervisor and implementation of virtualisation,” explained Tom Hanrahan, director of the OSTC.

“The Linux device drivers we are releasing are designed so Linux can run in enlightened mode, giving it the same optimised synthetic devices as a Windows virtual machine running on top of Hyper-V.

“Without this driver code, Linux can run on top of Windows, but without the same high-performance levels. We worked very closely with the Hyper-V team at Microsoft to make that happen,” Hanrahan said.

According to Hanrahan, customers have told Microsoft that they would like to standardise on one virtualisation platform, and the Linux device drivers will help customers who are running Linux to consolidate their Linux and Windows servers on a single virtualisation platform, thereby reducing the complexity of their infrastructure. This will give them more choices in how to develop and deploy solutions, while still managing their entire data centre from a single management console.

He added that economic realities helped Microsoft make its decision: “The current economic climate has a lot of companies consolidating their hardware and software assets, deferring new software and hardware purchases, and reducing their travel and training expenses — doing everything they can to cut controllable costs to the bone and get the most out of what they’ve got so they can hang onto their skilled staff.

“Many companies are turning to Microsoft more frequently to help them succeed in a heterogeneous technology world because we understand that reducing complexity is a key factor to reducing cost. We are seeing interoperability as a lever for business growth.

“So there’s mutual benefit for customers, for Microsoft, and for commercial and community distributions of Linux, to enhance the performance of Linux as a guest operating system where Windows Server is the host,” Hanrahan explained.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years