How an old Drawbridge helped Microsoft bring SQL Server to Linux

Hungry Microsoft is the best Microsoft. This is my first experience getting to know this leaner behemoth. By the time I became technologically aware, I remember Microsoft having such a tired sense of inevitability. That was the Microsoft that left us to use Internet Explorer 6 for years on end. I never got to experience the company during its triumphant march across IT as it steamrolled competition during it’s earlier days.

I won’t go so far to say that the company has been truly humbled, but we see a very different company from Redmond today. The essential turn away from Windows and into a cloud services company has led to some truly bizarre moves. As a former Linux hippie, I’m used to worrying that Microsoft would sue Linux out of existence. Now, we live in a world where they’re bringing SQL server to the platform.

Peter Bright gives a really great breakdown on how the company is doing this. As much as I want to credit Satya Nadella as the genius mind that turned the company by sheer force of will, the piece shows this move was years in the making. While the decision to port SQL was made only 18 months ago, the technology allowing for this was developed well before that.

The first was a research project called Drawbridge, originating in 2011. This allows for process virtualization inside picoprocesses, which gives access to roughly 50 low-level kernel features and a Library OS. This was applied to the Windows Subsystem for Linux that backends the SQL port. The other part comes from even earlier, 2005, with SQLOS. This basically was a rewriting of how SQL operates within Windows. Since these databases are generally run on dedicated hardware, SQLOS was designed to avoid dependence on the Windows architecture as possible. With this, SQL doesn’t really depend much on Windows, other than for some low level kernel dependencies, which can be emulated by the picoprocesses.

What makes Microsoft so fun to watch these days isn’t that they’re radically ramping up R&D. They’ve had top flight minds at work for the company doing great research all throughout their bloated period of moribund dominance. The company now has very real motivation to put that research to use, exploring avenues that may seem bizarre given their insular nature in decades past.

Ars Technica comments:

Enlarge (credit: Tom Hilton)

When in March this year Microsoft announced that it was bringing SQL Server to Linux the reaction was one of surprise, with the announcement prompting two big questions: why and how?

SQL Server is one of Microsoft’s major Windows applications, helping to drive Windows sales and keep people on the Windows platform. If you can run SQL Server on Linux, well, that’s one less reason to use Windows.

And while SQL Server does share heritage with Sybase SQL Server (now called SAP ASE), a Unix database server that Microsoft ported to Windows, that happened a long time ago. Since 1993, when Sybase and Microsoft went their separate ways, the products have diverged and, for the last 23 years, Microsoft SQL Server has been strictly a Windows application. That doesn’t normally make for easy porting.

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About the author

Rich Stroffolino

Rich has been a tech enthusiast since he first used the speech simulator on a Magnavox Odyssey². Current areas of interest include ZFS, the false hopes of memristors, and the oral history of Transmeta.

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