Linux: the Operating System of the Cloud

amcpherson's picture

Some months ago, we received a steady stream of reporter questions asking, “With the emergence of Cloud computing, what will happen to Linux?” Somehow they thought it was a zero sum game and that the rise of Cloud meant the extinction of Linux. Clearly the message that Linux *is* the operating system behind virtually all, if not all, commercial cloud computing offerings was not well understood in the market. (Can you guess the one Cloud offering that doesn’t use Linux?)

Those questions and answers resulted in the latest Linux Foundation white paper: Linux, the Operating System of the Cloud. It’s a high-level overview of how Linux is powering cloud environments with some discussion of why Linux is the obvious choice. And just why is it? Because Linux is configurable, ubiquitous, flexible (in terms of licensing *and* technology), manageable (its very easy to find staff to administer it), and available on all architectures, which drives the costs down for its users.

This isn’t the first time we have seen Linux dominate a new field of computing: “Like the web architectures it spawned from, cloud computing platforms are often composed from many other open source projects, from databases to file systems to application and web servers to language runtimes. By virtue of its quality, ubiquity, and open source nature, Linux is a first choice deployment target for developers of all of the above. As a result, cloud vendors benefit from the wide application catalog available to the Linux platform.”

Cloud providers care about about two things: price and performance (stability, reliability security, etc.) Linux has proven to be impossible to beat in those two areas. Microsoft’s technology may offer developers nice support and features, but its licensing practices make it nearly impossible for cloud vendors to base their business on it. For instance, could Google have ever been Google if they’d had to pay Microsoft per server licensing?

From the paper: “The second wave of online business, typified by Google and Amazon, will move farther into consumers’ digital lives, running in multiple devices, handling off-line interruptions, improving the browser interface, facilitating mashups between diverse user-chosen services, and a myriad of other issues that are just starting to be glimpsed. This flexibility and utility, based on Linux, is now pushing the cloud into enterprises, governments, and small businesses the world over.”

Google revolutionized the Internet through the scale provided by Linux. I think Amazon’s EC2 network is now going to revolutionize the way we interact with data and applications, as a whole new generation of developers make use of the kind of infrastructure and scale that Google and Amazon painstakingly built. Can you imagine the creativity that will be unleashed when you grant developers the ability to create new applications without worrying about operational cost or specifics? I wish I could (so I could invest in the right ones) but I do know that their work will be built on the backs of the hard work and creativity of those developers who have contributed to the Linux kernel.