Ubuntu 9.10: Linux for business

When you think "Ubuntu", you almost certainly think of it as a desktop distribution. Make no mistake, Ubuntu 9.10 is a great desktop distribution — but that's not what Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company, is focusing on with this release and the next, long-term support version, which will follow this one. No, Canonical has its eyes on the prize, and that's the server market.

The sad truth is that, except for Novell with SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop), the big-name Linux distributors tend to focus on servers. After all, as Red Hat has shown, that's where the real money is.

This focus isn't new. Canonical has been serious about servers for a long time now. This release underlines that point.

Even before Ubuntu 9.10 was in beta, Canonical introduced PSE (Premium Service Engineer), a new level of support for large enterprises. This gives corporate customers the option of a single point of contact along with access to all the way up to Canonical's platform engineers.

In addition, Steve George, Canonical's director of support and services, recently told me that Canonical saw its Amazon EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud)-compatible UEC (Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud) as being perhaps Ubuntu 9.10's most important feature.

George emphasized that this wasn't just another — yawn — cloud release. He told me "People who have been exploring cloud computing have really only be able to use public clouds. UEC allows companies to build a cloud internally first, and then think about how to make use of public clouds like EC2."

Good point. It takes a lot of guts, or perhaps stupidity, to move even a minor enterprise application to the cloud. With UEC, which is built atop the open-source Eucalyptus Project, you can have an EC2-compatible cloud running Ubuntu Linux servers on just a few servers with dual-core 2.2 GHz processors with virtualization extension (Intel-VT or AMD-V), 4GB RAM and 100 GB hard drive in the back room.

Virtualization-savvy pros may wonder how Ubuntu will put off being compatible with EC2. While Ubuntu uses KVM for virtualization, EC2 uses Xen. Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth explained that Canonical has managed to make an Ubuntu 9.10 VM (virtual machine) image that will work with both KVM and EC2's Xen. It wasn't easy, said Shuttleworth, but, in the end, they were able to make a "single machine image which works in both places."

Before you move there, though, Canonical lets you find out if cloud-based computing meets your needs. Then you have the option of moving your applications to Ubuntu on the Amazon cloud. Or, for that matter, just run it yourself in your own data center.

No matter where you run your Ubuntu servers though, another nice feature is you can manage all of them with Canonical Landscape. This systems management and monitoring programs lets you use a Web-based interface to manage all your Ubuntu machines no matter whether they're located down the hall, in the data-center across town or somewhere out on the cloud.

Canonical isn't ignoring the desktop though with these new developments. On Monday, October 26th, Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth revealed that one of the first Ubuntu cloud offerings, Ubuntu One, will be for desktop users. This service enables people who run Ubuntu 9.04 or newer to copy files to a cloud storage space. Ubuntu users can store up to 2GBs for free, and up to 50GB for $10 per month. In addition, Canonical recently partnered with IBM to deliver a thin-client style business desktop to users with the IBM Client for Smart Work.

Ubuntu One and the IBM office software suite are both nice desktop additions. But, if Canonical has its way, the real news that comes out of this latest release is more companies moving to Ubuntu on servers and in the cloud. Beating Windows 7 on the desktop may make the heart of Linux fans beat faster, but what Shuttleworth wants most for Ubuntu is for it to become a server power. Based on what I've seen of this release, Ubuntu is taking a giant step in that direction.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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