Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks during Lenovo Tech World in Beijing in 2015.
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By Barb Darrow
August 19, 2015

To be considered a tech vendor at the forefront of today’s market, you’d better support containers—technology that lets developers package up applications to run efficiently on less hardware and even move them between environments. But, containers, as exemplified by Docker, have thus far been limited to Linux, which was a problem for Microsoft (MSFT), the Windows company.

That’s why Microsoft has been talking about bringing containers to Windows for some time. Now, it’s starting to do so in a preliminary way.

Tuesday, the company said it’s releasing a test version of Windows Server Containers along with test versions of Windows Server 2016, and the management software (Windows System Center 2016) associated with that operating system.

What that means is that the many companies that run both Windows and Linux servers in-house can deploy containers in both of those environments and even manage Linux and Windows containers from the same screen.

“You can run both Windows containers on Windows Server and Linux containers on Red Hat or Ubuntu or what-not and use the same Docker commands,” Mark Russinovich, chief technology officer of Microsoft Azure told Fortune in an interview.

Because the Microsoft Azure cloud already supports Linux workloads, developers could run Docker containers up on that public cloud. The difference here is that containers will run natively on Windows machines. Of course, to achieve that the customer has to upgrade to the still-unreleased Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016, presumably due out next year. They will also have to run relatively new versions of Linux.

Microsoft has worked with Docker, the San Francisco-based company that’s backing the open-source Docker technology with management tools and support, on this effort. That close collaboration even led to talk that Microsoft might acquire the company. Docker founder and chief technology officer Solomon Hykes and Russinovich have talked about the need for cross-platform Docker support for the past few months, including at DockerCon in June.

Microsoft and Docker may be thick as thieves, but Microsoft is also working closely with Mesosphere, which is pushing its own operating system to run customer data centers, so stay tuned for more news there.

Both Russinovich and Scott Johnston, Docker’s senior vice president of product, said there is huge demand for running containers on both Windows and Linux infrastructure. “This lets enterprise IT choose the right tool for the right job.”

As you can see from the Gartner (IT) market share figures below, Windows Server has nearly 60% of the market (by revenue) in server operating systems while Linux has 12.4%. But remember, Linux is open-source or free except for support and service, while Windows Server is a commercial software that companies pay for. It’s likely that the number of servers running Linux is much higher percentage than those statistics reveal. Still, it will be interesting to see if Microsoft’s bet on containers ups adoption of its 2016 Server and Center products.

 

Gartner

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