Microsoft ports SQL Server to Linux
Microsoft ports SQL Server to Linux

In a short blog by Scott Guthrie, Executive Vice President, Cloud and Enterprise Group, Microsoft, he has announced plans to take Microsoft’s premium database solution SQL Server and move it to Linux. For those of us who are old enough to know the history of SQL Server this is also a case of SQL Server going back to its roots.

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical
Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical

Back in 1988, Microsoft worked with Ashton-Tate to port the Sybase RDBMS to OS/2. Microsoft got the sole license for x86 processors and when Microsoft and Sybase ended their partnership in 1993, both got copies of the core code. As part of that arrangement, Microsoft continued their development of SQL Server for Windows systems while Sybase focused on developing the product for Unix on x86.

The announcement has been broadly welcomed by the Linux world. Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical said: “Customers are already taking advantage of Azure Data Lake services on Ubuntu, and now developers will be able to build modern applications that utilize SQL Server’s enterprise capabilities.” There have been similar sentiments from Red Hat and other leading members of the Linux community which shows there is a lot of interest in this happening.

When will SQL Server ship on Linux?

Guthrie announced that the private preview is now available but avoided giving a timeline for release. This is understandable. While Unix and Linux share a lot of core code, rather like humans and chimpanzees share DNA, there will be a lot of fettling required to ensure that key features work properly. Microsoft will also have to look at how SQL Server works with Linux memory management in order to keep performance up.

However it would be a surprise if SQL Server wasn’t shipping by Q3 2016. Having made the announcement Microsoft will be keen to push it forward and deliver as soon as possible. The big question is: Will Microsoft deliver all the same functionality in SQL Server for Linux as it does for Windows?

This is not an unreasonable question. If you look at Microsoft’s porting efforts to Mac they have always been second-class programmes with less functionality and broken features. The difference here is that Microsoft knows any major screw up and the community will walk away and use other products. Linux is a rich platform for databases and there is a huge wealth of very capable open source software that it enterprise ready that will provide stiff competition for Microsoft’s SQL Server.

What is the impact on cloud and hosting providers?

This will be harder to assess. Microsoft has historically charged more for Windows hosting and access to SQL Server as a database than other solutions. This is why there is less Windows hosting than Linux hosting and as a result far less SQL Server than MySQL or its derivatives. How Microsoft decides to pitch costs here will be interesting.

From a database perspective it is not all about open source. There are a lot of companies who have taken open source databases and built their own enterprise solutions. MariaDB and Percona are just two examples of successful enterprise MySQL derivatives. This means that Microsoft will have to not only decide if it wants to have a free version for MSPs but also look at charges for enterprise customers.

Why is Microsoft doing this?

Under Satya Nadella Microsoft has been breaking the bond between its applications and its operating systems. This would have been unthinkable a decade ago but the new realism that is revitalising Microsoft is achieving more than two decades of anti-trust threats. What Microsoft wants now is a cross-platform set of products that not only run on its operating systems and cloud but on everyone else’s.

We will watch with interest as to how this goes. If Microsoft gets the code right there is also a chance that will also see SQL Server on IBM Power Systems. After all, IBM has ensured that x86 Linux runs on Power and has heavily promoted it as somewhere all x86 Linux application can run.

This won’t happen with the first code release from Microsoft due to time and porting pressures. But with the POWER9 chip likely to be announced by 2017 at the latest, Microsoft will want to be on a processor that currently outperforms Intel XEON v3 processors especially when it comes to handling big data.


With this announcement, Microsoft is finally restoring SQL Server to be the cross-platform database that it was in the early 1990’s. This is great move for Microsoft but not so for the many enterprise open source database vendors who, while they are also cross-platform, have been able to use that as a marketing point.

This move also means that Microsoft will be able to compete with Oracle and IBM whose database products are also cross-platform. It will be interesting to see how competitive these three get but competition is always good for the end-user so expect sharp pricing and a lot of feature enhancements.


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