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Ubuntu Linux takes on enterprise server market with new OS

Founder Shuttleworth is confident, but admits there's a 'long way to go' to get market penetration

By Todd R. Weiss
April 21, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - With its release this Thursday of its Ubuntu 8.04 Long Term Support (LTS) Server Edition, Linux vendor Ubuntu is firmly aiming its long-awaited, enterprise-ready server operating system at the world of business computing.

Technically, this isn't Ubuntu's first server release -- that one came two and a half years ago -- but this is the first one that is truly enterprise-ready, with a full specification sheet of features needed in complex business IT shops, including support for virtualization, enhanced performance and certification on an assortment of hardware from Sun Microsystems Inc.

And despite his excitement about the possibilities now that the operating system is done, Ubuntu Linux founder Mark Shuttleworth said he knows there's a lot of competition in the enterprise marketplace.

"We're modest about where we stand," Shuttleworth said. "We know we're a new entrant in that game and that we have a long way to go still."

In addition to releasing the new server edition of the operating system, Ubuntu also will release Version 8.04 desktop Linux on Thursday. Both versions will be available for free download at Ubuntu's Web site. Both are LTS releases and will be supported by Ubuntu's commercial sponsor, Canonical Ltd., for five years, much longer than Ubuntu's standard 18-month support cycle, he said.

"The LTS [does] appeal to those who are making larger scale deployments," such as businesses, that want to replace their systems again for a long time," he said. "I think this is our most significant release ever."

The enterprise version is certified for use on a host of Sun x86 servers, Shuttleworth said, though it will not be offered as a preinstalled operating system by Sun. Other vendors have provided hardware for certification compatibility and other testing, which is pending.

"We're truly not yet seen by the hardware community as a preload candidate," Shuttleworth said, but the company is working with hardware vendors to try to encourage such partnerships.

Two key features in the new server release are built-in support for two virtualization platforms, the free software KVM platform and VMware's platform, as well as a "significant uptake in [independent software vendor] certifications" for enterprise applications that will run on the new operating system.

"There's a great portfolio of ISVs on the server side who've all indicated to us that they will certify on this release," he said, including Zend, Zimbra, Alfresco, VMware and others. "That's a very encouraging story. Perhaps the most important thing from my perspective is the fact that all of those ISVs are saying that they are now hearing quite consistently from customers that Ubuntu is now a very serious option for them both on the desktop and on the server."

So now that Ubuntu has an enterprise-ready server operating system, will the company begin following the model of other Linux vendors, such as Red Hat Inc., and create an offering for enterprise applications as well?

"No, I think I can categorically rule out ... any sort of shift from Canonical into the application space," Shuttleworth said. "We far prefer to partner with vendors of open-source and proprietary applications. That's been a key driver, for example, of strategy with virtualization. We've partnered with VMware. We make sure that Ubuntu meets their standards, that it is the most optimized and tested platform that we can make ... on their virtualization infrastructure."

"Ubuntu's focus will continue to be on the operating systems ... instead of eating away up the stack as other companies have done," he said.

Instead, he said, Ubuntu will continue to work with partner ISVs that are the true creators of application innovations.

"These are companies that are investing in the actual innovation itself, the evolution of the key components in that platform. It's very clear to me that we should not pursue a path that would put us in opposition or contention with those key partners. I would much rather learn how Ubuntu can be a sales channel for them, how Ubuntu could help drive their revenue rather than trying to identify the key pieces of the stack and try to acquire those."

"It's a very clear difference in our stated strategies between Ubuntu and some of the other players in the Linux space," he said. "I think that will deliver a more vibrant result for end users."

Dell Inc. continues to offer Ubuntu desktop Linux on several of its consumer laptop and desktop computers.

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