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Thursday, 10 March 2016 12:17

Microsoft needs Linux so it can be on the forefront of software defined networking

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IoT is passe. The big thing today is SDN - or software defined networking - and Microsoft turned to Linux to enable it.

What a week! Microsoft announced SQL Server will be ported to Linux by mid-2017, Telstra and Cisco have promised a redefined customer experience with software defined networking and now Microsoft again has come out that it, also, will make available software defined networking with Debian Linux as the base.

There are two big things here: Microsoft embracing Linux in big ways, and software defined networking (SDN) itself.

SDN is potentially huge; it is the last vestige of locked-in proprietary, heavily-contracted components in the IT stack. Just as desktops have transformed to mobile devices, just as applications have become SaaS, just as server farms have become cloud farms, so too the network needs to evolve.

Networking has not kept pace; if your enterprise needs a new network connection you still have the embedded legacy of placing an order with your telco, filling in paperwork, negotiating contract terms, then waiting the two months or so for it to be built.

With cloud services we know the pitch: pay for what you consume; expand and contract as needed; turn it off when you don't want it; spin it up in minutes; automate it ... but the network is still so bound in physical connections and setups.

This is the problem SDN aims to solve. It is still in its infancy - even Telstra's big announcement is at this time limited to data centres and not premises. The vision is your telco will ship you a dumb box that will work with whatever connectivity you may have, and by whichever vendor you may use, and then grant you a simple point-and-click drag-and-drop interface to plug a network from here to there, with the bandwidth and latency you can tolerate (or afford), for the timeframe you want. We're not there yet, though Telstra jokes their SDN implementation is at least in production while competing SDN implementations still exist only as PowerPoint slides.

So that's SDN. Now Microsoft has entered the mix with its own telco-agnostic SDN platform. This time around - unlike Microsoft's terrible delays on embracing TCP/IP in the 1990's - Microsoft may be on the front-foot.

Yet, it's not Microsoft's own Windows server that is being used; the Redmond giant has turned to Debian Linux as the platform to make it happen. It's the innovation in open-source, and in devops and in container and micro-service systems which is delivering digital disruption and it would seem Satya Nadella is listening.

The digitally disruptive tools he needs are Linux-based, fueled by the open source community and the ability to make a platform around these.

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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