Inside Azure Cloud Switch (ACS), Microsoft’s Own Linux Distro

Last updated by UpGuard on June 29, 2020

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In case you haven’t heard, Microsoft loves Linux. Recent news around Redmond’s new modular Linux-based operating system for data center networking have been making the rounds, but for those in the know—the announcement is hardly a surprise. With the open source operating system’s happy feet casting huge footprints in the enterprise cloud—coupled with the rise of SDN—it’s clear that embracing Linux is a key strategic imperative for Microsoft. But its recently publicized love affair with Linux is hardly a new one.

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Inside Microsoft ACS

Azure Cloud Switch (ACS) is a cross-platform OS that supports a heterogeneous array of networking devices from different vendors—routers, switches, et al—making for easier management of said devices through lean and and modular software components. ACS works in tandem with a variety of existing Microsoft solutions such as System Center Operations Manager.

ACS also comes with a set of GUI tools that integrates with Microsoft’s systems management suite for easy visual management of networking resources.

Microsoft and OCP

At the heart of Microsoft ACS is the Open Compute Project’s (OCP) Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI). SAI’s C-based API provides the abstraction layer for supporting various vendor-specific hardware implementations, effectively allowing for the decoupling of hardware from software. SAI serves as OCP’s standard API for its implementation of SDN.

Microsoft ACS

Microsoft's Cloud Server Spec, one of its many contributions to OCP. Source: OCP.

The Open Compute Project—the first industry consortium with dedicated initiatives to advancing SDN in the enterprise—consists of several key players alongside Microsoft: Rackspace, Facebook, Cisco, Apple, Juniper Networks, among others. And though Microsoft’s recent publicized moves towards openness may seem like an about-face, the fact is Redmond has always embraced *nix as an integral part of its enterprise game plan.

Microsoft’s Early Open Source Efforts

Despite apparent surface-level frictions between Linux and Microsoft, open source initiatives have always thrived inside of Microsoft’s storied walls. In Episode 001 of Radio UpGuard, we spoke to Powershell co-creator Jim Truher about some of these early initiatives, including— amazingly enough—running an open source shop of sorts inside of Microsoft to support the onboarding of enterprise customers with huge investments in Unix-based technologies.

In short, Microsoft ACS is an SDN play as much as it is recognition of Linux dominance in the enterprise datacenter. But it’s hardly a new reckoning on Microsoft’s part. And with Satya Nadella at the helm, Microsoft’s cloud strategy will no doubt continue to embrace open integration and collaboration for advancing new IT models such as infrastructure-as-code and SDN.

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