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Ubuntu, the Cloud OS

I think it is worthwhile to put some context around Ubuntu and the cloud

We made a small flurry of announcements last week, all of which were related to cloud computing. I think it is worthwhile to put some context around Ubuntu and the cloud and explain a little more about where we are with this critical strategic strand for our beloved OS.

First of all, the announcements. We announced the release of Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud on Dell servers.  This is a hugely significant advance in the realm of internal cloud provision. It's essentially formalising a lot of the bespoke work that Dell has done in huge data centres (based on a variety of OSes) and making similar technology available for smaller deployments. We attended the Dell sales summit  in Las Vegas and we were very encouraged to meet with many of the Dell salespeople whose job it will be to deliver this to their customers. This is a big company, backing a leading technology and encouraging businesses to start their investigations of cloud computing in a very real way.

More or less simultaneously, we announced our formal support for the OpenStack project and the inclusion of their Bexar release in our next version of Ubuntu, 11.04. This will be in addition to Eucalyptus, it is worth stating. Eucalyptus is the technology at the core of UEC - and will be in Ubuntu 11.04 - as it has been since 9.04. Including two stacks has caused some raised eyebrows but it is not an unusual position for Ubuntu. While we look to pick one technology for integration into the platform in order to deliver the best user experience possible, we also want to make sure that users have access to the best and most up to date free and open-source software. The increasing speed of innovation that cloud computing is driving has meant that Ubuntu, with its 6 month release cadence, is able to deliver the tools and programs that developers and admins want before any other operating system.

Users will ultimately decide what deployment scenarios each stack best suits. Eucalyptus certainly has the advantage of maturity right now, especially for internal cloud deployments. OpenStack, meanwhile, continue to focus on rapid feature development and, given its heritage, has appeal to service providers looking to stand up their own public clouds. Wherever the technology is deployed, be it in the enterprise or for public clouds, we want Ubuntu to be the underlying infrastructure for all the scenarios and will continue to direct our platform team to deliver the most tightly integrated solution possible.

Finally we saw our partner, Autonomic Resources announce UEC is now available for purchase by Federal US government buyers. This is the first step on a long road the federal deployment, as anyone familiar with the governmental buying cycles will realise. But it is a good example of the built-to-purpose cloud environments that we will see more of - with the common denominator of Ubuntu at the core of it.

Which actually raises an interesting question - why is it that Ubuntu is at the heart of cloud computing? Perhaps we ought to look at more evidence before the theory. In addition to being the OS at the heart of new cloud infrastructures, we are seeing enormous usage of Ubuntu as the guest OS on the big public clouds, such as AWS and Rackspace, for instance. It is probably the most popular OS on those environments and others - contact your vendor to confirm :-)

So why is this OS that most incumbent vendors would dismiss as fringe, seeing such popularity in this new(ish) wave of computing? Well there are a host of technical reasons to do with modularity, footprint, image maintenance etc. But they are better expressed by others.

I think the reason for Ubuntu's prominence is because it is innovation made easy. Getting on and doing things on Ubuntu is a friction-free experience. We meet more and more tech entrepreneurs who tell us how they have built more than one business on Ubuntu on the cloud. Removing licence costs and restrictions allows people to get to the market quickly.

But beyond speed, it is also about reducing risk. With open-source now firmly established in the IT industry, and with the term open used so promiscuously, it is easy to forget that the economic benefits of truly free, open-source software. The combination of cloud computing, where scale matters, and open source is a natural one and this is why Ubuntu is the answer for those who need the reassurance that they can both scale quickly but also avoid vendor lock-in in the long-term.

More specifically, and this brings us back to the announcements, there are now clear scenarios where users can reach a point where even the economics of a licence-free software on a public cloud start to break down. At a certain stage it is simply cheaper to make the hardware investment to run your own cloud infrastructure. Or there might be regulatory, cultural or a host of other reasons for wanting cloud-like efficiencies built on internal servers.

The work we have done with OpenStack and with Eucalyptus means Ubuntu is an ideal infrastructure on which to build a cloud. This will typically be for the internal provision of a cloud environment but equally could be the basis or a new public cloud. It is entirely open as to the type of guest OS and in all cases continues to support the dominant API of Amazon EC2, ensuring portability for those writing applications.

And as we have seen, Ubuntu is the ultimate OS to deploy in a cloud and with which to build a cloud. No-one provides more up-to-date images on the most popular public cloud platforms. Our work to ensure compatibility to the most popular standards means that those guests will run just as well on a UEC cloud however that is deployed  - either internally or for cloud provision externally.

So technology moves markets. Economics does too, only more so. Ubuntu has come at the right point in our short IT history to ride both waves. The scale is there, the standards are emerging and the ability to provide an answer to the choice between running a cloud or running on a cloud is more fully realised on Ubuntu than on any other OS - open source or not.

More Stories By Neil Levine

Neil Levine is Vice President, Corporate Services, at Canonical. He has been working in the Internet and Telecoms industry for over 15 years. Before joining Canonical in 2009, he worked at Claranet where, as Chief Technology Officer, he helped build the company from a 15-employee, single-office organisation to a 650-employee company operating in nine countries. Prior to Claranet, Neil was a Systems Administrator at Easynet PLC and COLT Telecom PLC, where he was a passionate advocate of free and open-source software.

Neil holds an MA in Political Science from Columbia University and a BSc in Economics from University College London.

Neil says that "the potential for Ubuntu means that being at Canonical allows you to work with some of the world's best engineers and with cutting-edge technologies. Every day brings incredible intellectual challenges and the chance to change how people use computers."

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