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Commercial Linux distributor Canonical has launched the third release of its Landscape systems management and monitoring service for the Ubuntu Linux distribution. And with Landscape 1.3, the tool can now reach out and manage Ubuntu images on Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) utility.

Up until now, the Landscape tool, which debuted in March 2008, has been used to manage multiple physical PCs or servers running an Ubuntu stack though a single Web console. Landscape can monitor physical machines individually or in groups and can also control the deployment of applications from the Ubuntu repository to machines individually or in groups. And if Ubuntu shops want to create their own Ubuntu spin with its own repositories, Landscape can do this as well.

User accounts and patches are all managed from within the service, which, like the Red Hat Network, is available as a service through the commercial sponsor of the Linux distro in question. (Red Hat allows customers to host local copies of the RHN software inside their firewalls if they ask nicely and pay for it).

The Landscape service is part of the Ubuntu support contract from Canonical, but if you don't want to pay for service and you want to use Landscape, you can do that at the price of $150 per server or PC. And this can be considerably cheaper than Ubuntu support, which runs to $250 per year for 9x5 business support and $900 per year for 24x7 premium support on the desktop variant of Ubuntu and $750 per year for 9x5 support or $2,750 per year for 24x7 support on a server. (The latest Ubuntu, release 9.04, came out on April 20).

With Landscape 1.3, the tool can be used to start, stop, and otherwise manage Ubuntu images running on Amazon's EC2 utility. Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) with Ubuntu inside are available with the Landscape client already bundled in and ready to go, so they can be deployed on EC2 with no fuss and no muss.

In addition to the EC2 support, Canonical says the Landscape 1.3 release includes custom graphing features for the system monitoring part of the tool that allows system administrators to create and store trends of key parameters for physical and virtual servers and then create scripts that plot these parameters for capacity planning purposes.

Landscape's support for the management of Ubuntu images on EC2 is distinct from, but parallel to, the Project Eucalyptus support that is coming out with Ubuntu 9.10 (nick-named "Karmic Koala") this October. Eucalyptus is a project that was under development at the University of California at Santa Barbara that is a framework for managing private clouds (like those Canonical expects companies to build using Ubuntu) and public clouds like EC2 from the same framework. Two weeks ago, the Eucalyptus effort went commercial with the formation of Eucalyptus Systems, right down the street from the UCSB campus that spawned it. (Rich Wolski, a compsci professor at UCSB who started the project is the company's chief technology officer).

The Eucalyptus framework allows companies to, in essence, build their own EC2-compatible clouds, which will allow them to move workloads seamlessly between their private clouds and the Amazon EC2 utility. That framework might be great, but you still have to monitor and patch the Ubuntu images that are, in the case of Canonical, presumed to be at the heart of the clouds.

And that is where Landscape 1.3 will come in. This is also where Canonical hopes to make some dough, of course. Even if companies use the freebie Ubuntu and the freebie Eucalyptus framework that comes with Ubuntu 9.10, they will want a tool to manage their images. And that is not free. Unless you count the 60-day free trial that Canonical gives away.

Bootnote: Readers were curious about the Landscape source code, given Canonical's position in the open source community. The client software that runs on Ubuntu instances and that talks back to the Landscape service is open, but Canonical has not opened up the Landscape server software that is behind its service. ®

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