Microsoft adds a new Linux: CBL-Mariner

Think of Microsoft and Linux, and you’re likely to think about its work building an optimized Linux kernel for the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). Pushed out through Windows update, Microsoft supports all the WSL2 Linux distributions, including Ubuntu and SUSE.

But WSL2’s kernel isn’t Microsoft’s only Linux offering. We’ve looked at some of the others here in the past, including the secure Linux for Azure Sphere. Others include the SONiC networking distribution designed for use with Open Compute Project hardware and used by many public clouds and major online services, and the hosts for Azure ONE (Open Network Emulator) used to validate new networking implementations for Azure.

Microsoft’s Linux Systems Group

With an ever-growing number of Microsoft Linux kernels and distributions, there’s now an official Linux Systems Group that handles much of the company’s Linux work. This includes an Azure-tuned kernel available as patches for many common Linux distributions, optimizing them for use with Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor, and a set of tools to help deliver policy-based enforcement of system integrity, making distributions more secure and helping manage updates and patches across large estates of Linux servers and virtual machines.

The team recently released a new Linux distribution: CBL-Mariner. Although the release is public, much of its use isn’t, as it is part of the Azure infrastructure, used for its edge network services and as part of its cloud infrastructure. The result is a low-overhead, tightly focused distribution that’s less about what’s in it, and much more about what runs on it.

Introducing CBL-Mariner: Microsoft’s Linux container host

Investing in a lightweight Linux such as CBL-Mariner makes a lot of sense, considering Microsoft’s investments in container-based technologies. Cloud economics require hosts to use as few resources as possible, allowing services such as Azure to get a high utilization. At the same time, Kubernetes containers need as little overhead as possible, allowing as many nodes per pod as possible, and allowing new nodes to be launched as quickly as feasible.

The same is true of edge hardware, especially the next generation of edge nodes intended for use with 5G networks. Here, like the public cloud, workloads are what’s most important, shifting them and data closer to users. Microsoft uses its growing estate of edge hardware as part of the Azure Content Delivery Network outside its main Azure data centers, caching content from Azure Web apps and from hosted video and file servers, with the aim of reducing latency where possible. The Azure CDN is a key component of its Jamstack-based Azure Static Websites service, hosting pages and JavaScript once published from GitHub.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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