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Wikipedia dumps Red Hat for Ubuntu

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The Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit entity behind the Wikipedia online encyclopedia, has finished the porting of its IT infrastructure - including most servers and desktops - to the Ubuntu variant of Linux.

Wikimedia has been running on a mix of Red Hat development and commercial Linuxes since it was founded seven years ago, and while the number of machines that have been changed is relatively small in terms of the size of the Linux universe, it is a win nonetheless for Canonical, the commercial company behind the Ubuntu distribution.

Gerry Carr, marketing manager at Canonical, said Wikimedia began its transition to Ubuntu in earnest in April with the Ubuntu 8.04 Long Term Support (LTS) launch, although the organization had some Ubuntu 6.04 instances running on its servers alongside a mix of Fedora and Red Hat distributions starting back in 2006.

Servers dominate

Wikimedia has 350 servers today supporting its operations and fewer than 20 desktops, with the exception of a couple of servers still running a Red Hat Linux and a Windows desktop machine that is used to run QuickBooks to do the accounting for the foundation.

All remaining servers and many desktops are running Ubuntu 8.04 LTS. All future servers will be setup with Ubuntu 8.04 LTS, and Wikimedia intends to push that LTS-only idea to the limit by not changing Linuxes unless it has to.

In a case study Canonical has put together, Wikimedia's chief technology officer Brion Vibber said the organization explored the possibility of sticking with Fedora. However: "Fedora moves a little too fast and we were not happy about some of the configuration management features."

Several Wikimedia system admins also liked Debian Linux, especially Ubuntu. This seems to have tipped the balance from Fedora to Ubuntu.

Wikimedia operates three data centers - one in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, another in South Korea (the city is unknown as we go to press), and the last one in Tampa, Florida. The Tampa data center is where most of the iron is actually located. The servers are x64 rack-mounted servers in 1U- and 2U-form factors, and Dell is the dominant supplier.

The machines run MySQL databases, the PHP programming language, the Apache Web server, Linux, and the custom applications created by Wikimedia to create Wikipedia. Wikimedia uses the Subversion code repository and the Bugzilla bug tracking software, too. And is obviously very keen on open-source software. The Wikipedia site has 2.5 million English articles and supports a peak of around 50,000 page requests per second.

With the LTS distribution, Canonical provides tech support and security patches for five years on servers and for three years on desktops, compared to the shorted development cycles for regular Ubuntu releases.

The LTS releases also have broader and deeper application certification for the stuff that rides atop the Linux distribution. The announcement of Wikipedia's use of Ubuntu comes just as Canonical is putting the finishing touches on its next regular release, Ubuntu 8.10, code-named Intrepid Ibex. Regular Ubuntu releases have 18 months of support for desktop and server variants.

Incidentally, while Wikimedia is using Ubuntu to run the company, and that might seem to imply commercial-grade support contracts from Canonical, this is not the case.

Support free

According to Carr, Wikimedia has not engaged Canonical for support contracts but there is some discussion about Wikimedia using Canonical's Landscape system management tool, announced in March, as well as doing some sort of custom support contract.

Right now, Wikimedia is using custom Ubuntu versions that have its own software configuration tools. Carr said Wikimedia has plenty of Linux expertise and a standard support contract doesn't make a lot of sense. Canonical is also hoping that Wikimedia becomes more involved with the Ubuntu support forums and with the process of deciding what needs to go into future Ubuntu releases, too.®

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