When compared to the competition of other enterprise infrastructure providers, Microsoft was in a delicate position to respond to the container challenge. It already had a lot of vested interests in systems impacted by the growing use of containers, including an operating system (Windows Server), a hypervisor (Hyper-V), private cloud offering (Azure Stack), and public cloud (Azure).
Containers come across as both a threat and an opportunity to platform companies. Every player that’s in the business of delivering infrastructure responded differently to the containerization wave. While VMware took longer than the competition, Google, Microsoft, and Red Hat moved fast in embracing this new wave of computing. Google squarely focused on container management by open sourcing the Kubernetes container orchestration engine and offering a managed version of it in its public cloud environment. Red Hat realized that OpenShift as a traditional PaaS was not getting enough traction. It pretty much changed everything including the branding and changing the underlying technology stack to pivot to Kubernetes.
Reflecting the new culture at the company, Microsoft was quick to strike a deal with Docker, Inc. in making it the default interface for Windows-based containers. It then worked hard to ensure that containers are an integral part of the entire stack. Some of the features such as Windows containers, Hyper-V containers, integrated Docker Engine in Windows Server 2016, Azure Container Service, Visual Studio Tools for Docker, a container-optimized Windows Nano Server, nested virtualization in Azure are signs that Microsoft is going all-out to make containerization a first-class citizen.
Microsoft’s strategic move so far has been hiring Brendan Burns, an ex-Googler who was among the founding team of Kubernetes. This hire raised a few eyebrows including those at Google building the Google Cloud Platform, Azure’s key competitor. But there was not much of a resentment because of Brendan’s association with Kubernetes, an open source project that was gaining tremendous popularity in the community. The Kubernetes community including the folks at Google was hoping to see Microsoft officially embracing Kubernetes. Microsoft did not disappoint us. Within months of Brendan’s transition to the Azure Compute team, Redmond opened the availability of Kubernetes on Azure. This almost singled out AWS, who built a proprietary version of container management platform, Amazon EC2 Container Service, based on EC2.
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