Microsoft Unveils Azure Linux as the New Identity for Its In-House Distribution

Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2024 by Lucas ReesNo comments
Microsoft Unveils Azure Linux as the New Identity for Its In-House Distribution

Microsoft's Azure Linux Emerges from CBL-Mariner

In a significant shift under the tech giant's broadening Linux strategy, Microsoft's formerly named CBL-Mariner Linux distribution has been rebranded as Azure Linux. This evolution marks a further commitment by Microsoft to providing tailored solutions for cloud services.

From CBL-Mariner to Azure Linux: A Transition Underway

The tech community has taken note as Microsoft's internal Linux distribution, once known as CBL-Mariner (Common Base Linux), transitions to Azure Linux. As of the recent CBL-Mariner 2.0.20240301 release, redirection to the Microsoft/AzureLinux repository on GitHub signifies this strategic change. The renaming is accompanied by updates such as the shift from "MARINER_VERSION" to "AZL_VERSION" to reflect the new Azure Linux branding. However, some CBL-Mariner references still persist as the transformation continues.

The reasons behind this rebranding effort remain a topic of intrigue. It's anticipated that this move could be part of a larger plan to enhance Microsoft's in-house Linux platform's positioning and visibility in the public sphere. Observers are keen to see whether Azure Linux will introduce additional changes or thrust the company's Linux-based offerings into a new trajectory.

Azure Linux: An Open-Source OS Optimized for Containerized Workloads

After a period of internal use and a recent public preview since October 2022, Microsoft has revealed the general availability of Azure Linux. This open-source container host operating system is designed to integrate seamlessly with Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS),simplifying the deployment and management of container workloads for developers.

Azure Linux is tailored for cloud deployment, particularly for running multiple containers efficiently. According to Jim Perrin, principal program manager for Microsoft Azure Linux, the initiative for CBL-Mariner sprouted from the need for a consistent Linux platform that could handle the diverse array of workloads on Azure.

During Build 2023, Perrin highlighted the distribution's aim: to maintain a minimal footprint by keeping dependencies and extraneous packages to a minimum. The result is a 400MB core image and about 300 packages, optimized for both performance and security which are critical considerations in today's digitally-driven landscape.

Balancing Optimization with Broad Applicability

While crafted with an "opinionated Azure focus," Microsoft's Azure Linux also offers wide-ranging benefits. Not limited to being just a container host for AKS, it supports varying deployment scenarios from cloud to edge across AKS, AKS-HCI, and Arc products.

Microsoft emphasizes the distribution's reliability and consistency, allowing developers to integrate Azure Linux node pools into new or existing clusters or migrate from Ubuntu nodes seamlessly. This flexibility positions Azure Linux as an adaptable offering in Microsoft's ecosystem.

Prioritizing Security and Independence

Security concerns have also been a pivotal aspect of Azure Linux development. Perrin indicated that all updates undergo thorough Azure validation tests, with the test suite receiving continuous enhancements. The curated nature of the software supply chain aids in maintaining high quality and resilience throughout the system, reinforcing the container host's robustness against vulnerabilities.

This proactive approach to security, combined with the lightweight nature of Azure Linux, lowers the frequency and volume of required security patching, providing timely and efficient management of security risks.

This approach stands in stark contrast to the history of tension between Microsoft and the Linux community, including Steve Ballmer's infamous declaration of Linux is a cancer. However, the development of Azure Linux from the ground up demonstrates the company's determination to respect the tenets of the Linux ecosystem and contribute back to the community without rekindling old animosities.

Microsoft's choice to forge a new path with Azure Linux, rather than adapting existing commercially available Linux distros, indicates their commitment to offering a unique product tailored to their specific cloud and container orchestration needs.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on Microsoft's move to evolve their in-house Linux distribution into Azure Linux. How do you think this change will impact the landscape of container-optimized operating systems? Share your insights and join the discussion below.

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