On March 7, 2016, Microsoft announced the beta release of SQL Server on Linux with the intention of shipping a full release of the product by April of 2017 (http://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2016/03/07/announcing-sql-server-on-linux/#sm.0009dqofs14t8en3pv31brjjap10l). Many thought it was an early April Fool’s Day prank.
But this is no joke. SQL Server is already running on Linux in Azure, Microsoft’s cloud service, and is undergoing beta testers by MVPs and members of Microsoft’s TAP program.
Linux Equals Open Source, Right?
Under former Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer, Microsoft became “Fortress Microsoft,” the company sought to crush or contain any rival technologies of significant threat. Balmer likened Linux, and its open source origins, to “cancer” and “communism.” Since it was a threat to Microsoft’s very lucrative server-based Windows OS, it had to be contained wherever possible.
But Microsoft has made an enormous bet on Azure, its cloud platform. There, customers pay for performance, not necessarily for specific OS licenses. That means Microsoft doesn’t have to defend that turf as ferociously as in years past. Plus, adding Linux support opens up a new world of opportunity that previously had been a strong point for Linux, such as containerize applications running under Docker and Big Data applications harnessing the power of the Hadoop-HBase-Hive stack.
Microsoft is sticking with solid commercial vendors such as Ubuntu and Hortonworks, as well as Canonical and Red Hat. Still, many have asked, “Does this mean Microsoft is friendlier to open source?” The signs are definitely in favor of a new era of détente between Microsoft and the community-centric open source.
For example, Microsoft has already open-sourced the ASP.NET programming code and moved most of its code off of its proprietary CodePlex code sharing website to the GitHub website. I speculate that its Windows products, such as Active Directory and the network stack, are likely to follow soon.
That doesn’t mean we’ll be getting open source versions of SQL Server or Windows any time soon. But Microsoft no longer discounts the Linux and open source world as rivals to be conquered. Instead, it now considers them valid platforms to be supported.
Transforming From Fortress Microsoft
Under new CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft has made a variety of overtures to markets where it was previously hostile, such as opening up the Office product line to devices running iOS and Android devices. A notable characteristic of the iOS and Android markets are their vociferous and active communities.
The Linux community, especially developers who want to write code on a Linux-based stack, is even more active. But, by offering a solid database to compete against MySQL and PostgreSQL (two database platforms I write about in my book SQL in a Nutshell), Microsoft is much better positioned to gain mind share, market share, and most importantly a solid footing in large enterprises that previously used only open source products.
This is a great strategic plan. Microsoft tried and failed with several aggressive strategies, such as “Windows Everywhere” and the introduction of a broader range of Windows smartphone devices with the disastrously expensive purchase of Nokia. Meanwhile, cloud computing was experiencing rapid growth, without any need for Windows Servers. Microsoft, clearly, has identified the need to secure a position as a cross-platform enterprise computing company. That path, now more than ever, includes a trip through the Linux world.
It's Not Just Microsoft Versus Oracle
Microsoft coupled the announcement of SQL Server on Linux at their Data Driven event in New York City with an announcement that customers could get free SQL Server licenses (www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/sql-license-migration.aspx) if they migrate off of Oracle. (A purchase of a Microsoft Software Agreement is required.) It might be building bridges to many other IT communities, but Oracle isn’t one of them.
On the surface, the announcement of SQL Server on Linux seems to be a simple sales strategy to increase revenue by carving out some competitive space from Oracle on Linux. But it goes deeper than that. In my opinion, Oracle has made a number of strategic errors over the years which SQL Server on Linux can exploit. For example, Oracle’s R&D focus on applications, rather than its core DBMS or cloud computing has put it at such a technologic disadvantage that it will take years to catch up. And the company’s always-aggressive sales and licensing tactics have alienated many customers. They are eager to find a way off of Oracle, and Microsoft is just the company to make that happen.
Now, All Roads Lead to Rome, er, Microsoft
The level of transformation happening at Microsoft is colossal. When Microsoft implemented its plans to be a “cloud first” company, I doubt that the executives realized that their new direction would also alter the company’s culture and perception in the wider market. Under the new Linux-inclusive strategy, everyone has a pathway into the Microsoft ecosystem. Developers used to grumble about the evil “lock in” that came from anything Microsoft built. Now, most Linux developers are excited to see where this is heading. If Microsoft continues to consistently add these small, incremental wins, it is conceivable that those same grumpy developers will see Microsoft as a valid addition to their Linux-based data centers.