CIO - Ubuntu is well known in user circles as the cool kids' Linux. It's available preinstalled on PCs and laptops from Dell Inc. and from numerous smaller computer vendors. What Ubuntu hasn't been known as is a Linux distribution that matters to CIOs and IT managers. Things are changing.
Canonical Ltd., Ubuntu's parent company, is finally taking serious action on its long-announced plans to become a serious enterprise Linux player. The Isle of Man-based Linux distributor isn't just targeting data center servers, although that's on its list.
First, Canonical, along with Red Hat Inc. and IBM, announced earlier this month at LinuxWorld that by 2009, they'll offer a preloaded software stack of IBM's OCCS (Open Collaboration Client Solution) to server and desktop manufacturers. With this, enterprise customers can get Lotus Notes, Lotus Symphony and Lotus Sametime, as well as the distributor's Linux. The plan is for value-added resellers and systems integrators to brand the complete package under their own names.
"The slow adoption of Vista among businesses and budget-conscious CIOs, coupled with the proven success of a new type of Microsoft-free PC in every region, provides an extraordinary window of opportunity for Linux," said Kevin Cavanaugh, IBM Lotus Software's vice president. Ubuntu, which may well be the most popular desktop Linux, plans to use this general trend to boost not only its desktop sales but to push into the data center.
Malcolm Yates, Canonical's independent software vendor alliance manager, said in an interview, "A lot of our customers like the Ubuntu desktop and use it for software development. Now, they want to roll it out to the server. We want to make sure that, when they roll out Ubuntu on the server, they find it equally joyous."
By this, Yates explained, "we want to make it as easy to install software on the Ubuntu server as it is to install the Ubuntu desktop. For example, we're getting ready to release DB2 and Informix database management systems that come as DEB packages, which will install and do basic set-up with only a couple of clicks or a single command line instruction."
In addition to databases and the IBM OCCS stack, said Yates, Canonical has partnered with Alfresco Software Inc., an open-source content management system and maker of a Microsoft SharePoint replacement. The beta Alfresco Labs 3, its SharePoint server replacement, is available for download from the Ubuntu Partner repository. "When Alfresco releases Alfresco Enterprise Release 3 later this year, we will make the entire enterprise solution available through the Canonical Store," Yates said.
Canonical will also offer Yahoo Inc.'s Zimbra Desktop Client to the Ubuntu repository this week, Yates said. Then, "When it is released in a few weeks, we will be offering the Zimbra Collaboration Suite 5.5 later this year, which will be a big boon for our corporate users."
Last, but not least, Canonical will also be offering Unison. Unison is a combination desktop and server package that provides a combination of telephone system, e-mail and instant messaging. It's designed to replace small-to-midsized business and department server private branch exchanges as well as Microsoft Exchange. On the desktop side, Unison will run on both Linux and Windows.
Bottom line: Canonical is focusing its attention on delivering not just the traditional Linux edge server, but business software stacks ready to drop into small and midsize businesses and enterprises.
With Novell Inc. and Red Hat Inc. already in the picture, can Canonical and Ubuntu pull this plan off? Jay Lyman, open-source analyst at The 451 Group, thinks it can.
"We see Ubuntu part of a larger trend toward fragmentation of the Linux marke," Lyman said. "Linux itself isn't fragmenting, but we see other companies besides Red Hat and Novell moving up. With Canonical being so hot on the desktop, and pushing hard on the server, we think the desktop will work in their favor."
Still, Lyman continued, "Ubuntu needs a big [reseller] deal to move ahead." Lyman can see that happening before the end of the year or, he suggested, "perhaps Canonical could jump over servers. I could see a cloud vendor approaching Ubuntu."
One way or the other, though, it's clear that Canonical and Ubuntu aren't just for Linux enthusiasts anymore. They're demanding the attention of CIOs now as well.
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