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Canonical pushes out Ubuntu 9.10 server

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If you are getting ready to build your own internal cloud-style virtual infrastructure, Canonical - the commercial entity behind the Ubuntu distro of Linux - really wants you to think outside of the box and consider the forthcoming "Karmic Koala" Ubuntu 9.10 Server Edition.

Canonical is looking to build some excitement for Ubuntu 9.10, so it's announcing the new OS today even though the Server Edition will not be ready for download until October 29.

Of course, the problem with open source projects - at least from a news and excitement perspective - is that you can see the code well ahead of the formal launch. So there are not that many surprises once something is here. Such is the case with Ubuntu 9.10, which became the topic of conversation back in February when Mark Shuttleworth, the Ubuntu project's founder, started talking up the embedded cloud tools that would come in the Karmic Koala release, which was two months ahead of the delivery of Ubuntu 9.04 in April.

The good news for users and customers (there are many more Ubuntu users than customers paying for Canonical support) is that they know well ahead of time what the Ubuntu project is cooking up and have plenty of time to prepare for deploying new technologies.

While the new Amazon EC2-compatible Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud, which is perhaps the key new feature coming to market with Ubuntu 9.10 Server Edition, is not exactly a surprise. But it is, Canonical hopes, exactly what the IT space is looking for.

"People who have been exploring cloud computing have really only be able to use public clouds," says Steve George, director of support services at Canonical. "UEC allows companies to build a cloud internally first, and then think about how to make use of public clouds like EC2."

While UEC is based on the cloud framework and tools created by the open source Eucalyptus Project and commercialized by Eucalyptus Systems in early September, there are some differences. First, the commercial Eucalyptus Enterprise Edition is aimed at virtual machines created to run in the cloud infrastructure on VMware's ESX Server hypervisor, although the project originally supported Xen and KVM hypervisors.

No one has figured out how to run all three hypervisors under the same framework and make the VMs easily convertible from one hypervisor to another, but also to be able to port or live migrate VMs on the fly and convert them to, say, an Amazon Machine Image (AMI) format for the EC2 public cloud. This AMI format is a secret that Amazon holds pretty close, but it is widely believed to be a homegrown variant of the Xen hypervisor.

Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud is designed to deploy applications atop the KVM hypervisor, which is Ubuntu's preferred hypervisor, according to George. But because Canonical gets that customers will want to "cloud burst" applications running on internal clouds out to EC2, Ubuntu 9.10 Server Edition creates a KVM image and an EC2 image at the same time when system admins make virtualized software stacks. So they are not really moving running images from the internal to the public cloud so much as having identical software stacks preconfigured to run on KVM or AMI images so they can fire up external apps if necessary. And the UEC tools use the same APIs to manage images as Amazon uses, so if you know how to manage one, you know how to manage the other. These are first steps, and important ones.

It is also not a coincidence that Ubuntu sells its Landscape system management tool not only to manage internal Ubuntu servers in the data center but - as it announced in May - to hook into Amazon EC2 and manage Ubuntu images and their applications out on that public cloud.

You don't have to do anything special to get the Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud tools. They are part of the Ubuntu Server 9.10 distribution, and that means they will be supported for the next 18 months. However, support for the cloud extensions is not part of the normal Ubuntu Server Edition support service, as El Reg reported back in July when Canonical first started peddling cloud support.

An entry-level cloud support contract includes support for five physical machines and up to 25 virtual machines for $4,750 per year. A 24x7 contract costs $17,500 for the same setup. Each additional physical server can get a support pack that can have up to ten virtual machines for $1,250 for standard support and $3,000 for advanced support. A site-wide support contact, with unlimited servers and virtual machines - good for one physical location, not spanning multiple locations - costs $90,000 per year for standard support and $150,000 per year for full-on support.

(You can see our full analysis of Canonical's cloud pricing compared to regular support pricing here).

For a single physical server, a standard Ubuntu Server Edition support contract costs $750 per year, and an advanced support contract costs $2,470. It doesn't take long for the cloud support to start making economic sense, and this is so by design.

Ubuntu 9.10 Server Edition has a bunch of other features that have been tweaked and improved, as is always the case with a new OS release. George says that the new server edition includes the MySQL 5.1 database, tighter integration with the PowerNap server quiescing tool, and support for the Web-Based Enterprise Management protocol (WBEM), so system management tools from the major server makers (IBM, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard) as well as those from CA can reach in and monitor and manage Ubuntu as they do other operating systems. The 9.10 server update also sports performance improvements for both the KVM and Xen hypervisors. Just because KVM is the preferred hypervisor doesn't mean Canonical has to ignore Xen, just like Red Hat, which owns the KVM hypervisor (well, essentially) is still tweaking Xen with its releases. ®

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