Managing Ubuntu Linux on the cloud

It's actually pretty darn easy to run a virtual operating system on a server or on the cloud. The real trick is managing them. That's why I'm excited that Canonical, Ubuntu's Linux commercial backer, recently released Canonical Landscape 1.3, an Ubuntu network systems management and monitoring service that will let you control your Ubuntu servers no matter whether they're on your desktop or a few thousand miles away on the Amazon EC2 (Amazon Compute Cloud).

You can get Landscape as either part of the Ubuntu commercial support package or as a standalone service. With it, you can manage multiple instances of Ubuntu on servers, desktops, or the cloud from a single Web interface. If you're new to EC2, you can also use it to pick out a pre-configured Ubuntu server image and get it up and running in less time then it took me to write this blog posting.

In an e-mail interview, Ken Drachnik, Canonical's Landscape business manager said "Landscape simplifies system management tasks for users who run Ubuntu on physical or virtual servers in-house or some or all of their Ubuntu servers on the Amazon EC2 cloud. It enables users to manage all instances from the same application."

In short, Landscape is more proof that Canonical wants Ubuntu to not just be your desktop Linux, but a serious contender for your servers as well.

At first glance, you might think Landscape looks a lot like Red Hat's management program: Red Hat Network. You're right. It does. But, Drachnik explained, "but our focus is on managing Ubuntu packages - we do not yet provide management for other operating systems."

There are advantages as well though to Landscape. Drachma said, "Because the clients on the managed systems ping the server frequently, a System Administrator can approve an action and view that action being executed in less than a minute." This does not eat up network bandwidth, Drachnik added because "each ping is just a few byte query asking if there are updates so it consumes very little bandwidth. This saves them time by not having to log in at a later time to see if the action was done.

Drachnik also said that "Landscape highlights security updates separately from other package updates so you can easily find and apply critical packages immediately and perform other updates at more appropriate times. Also, Drachnik continued, "Landscape scales to 1000s of systems including servers, desktops and sometimes connected systems, such as laptops."

Landscape is available free with Ubuntu support from Canonical or, for those who do not yet require support, as a paid service priced at $150 per node, with discounting available on larger volumes.

While the Landscape client itself is open-sourced on Launchpad so that users can see what code is running on their systems. The server is proprietary, explained Drachnik.

This is another difference between how Canonical and Red Hat approach the Linux business. "We have a very different business model than Red Hat, which means our management model is different," said Drachnik.

He continued, "Red Hat is a procurement led model--you have to buy a subscription to Red Hat in order to get access to any package updates, including security patches. So Red Hat can give away their management software, because they charge for the packages. Canonical and Ubuntu follow an adoption led model - Ubuntu and all packages, even security updates, are free and will always be free. So, Canonical charges for the service. This ends up paying for itself in time savings for system administrators."

I've used RHN for years, and I've only now started toying with Landscape. That said, I know system management software, if you're at all serious about using Ubuntu in a business, you need to give Landscape a try. It's an impressive and easy to use system administrator program. Give the free 60-day trial a try; you'll be glad you did.

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