Microsoft may be planning to provide a way let customers run Linux virtual machines on Windows Azure.
Rumours of an expansion that will let you create persistent virtual machines on Azure come from ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, who has close contacts within Microsoft and its partners and is usually a reliable source of information.
In her blog post, she says that Microsoft is planning to launch a Community Technology Preview (CTP) test-build of the persistent VM capability in the spring of 2012, according to partners briefed by the company.
In addition to the surprise of Microsoft providing a way to run Linux, the new support for persistent virtual machines will also provide the means to run SQL Server or SharePoint Server in VMs.
While Azure already has support for running VMs, if you reboot or if Azure recycles your environment any data that’s stored is lost, so applications can’t make use of state information unless it’s stored within SQL Azure or externally. This also causes problems for SharePoint, which relies on persistence.
According to Foley, one of her contacts described this lack of persistence as “a deal breaker for a number of business users who were unwilling to consider Azure until Microsoft added this support.”
Customers have also been requesting the means to run Linux on Azure, though the initial upgrade to Azure will require customers to provide uploads of their own Linux images. Foley’s contacts have told her that a community preview of the new version will appear in late March.
While the thought of Microsoft providing the means for Linux to run may sound unlikely, it does fit with Microsoft’s need to provide a realistic alternative to rivals including Amazon EC2 and VMWare. If customers say they’ll choose a cloud environment on the basis that they can just put their existing applications - including those on Linux - onto the cloud without a lot of work, Microsoft faces the simple choice of providing the support or losing the customer.