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Shuttleworth heir opens up on Ubuntu biz

Canonical kingdom spans 10 million machines

Eye on the enterprise

Enterprise support contracts used to be fairly small deals done at mostly at SMB shops as they were installing Linux, sometimes for the first time. But now, as Ubuntu is becoming more widely adopted on a more diverse set of machines, and companies are coming to Canonical for much larger support contracts after they figure out developers have created applications running atop Ubuntu and they need to get proper commercial-grade support for these application platforms.

"There is a noticeable change in the kind of customers we are getting and the size of contracts," says Silber. "And there is a marked increase in interest around our Landscape systems management tools." The initial Landscape was run as a service hosted by Canonical, but last year a hosted version that companies could run behind their firewalls was announced, akin to the local version of Red Hat Network. IT shops like having their management tools hosted locally, although for SMBs, the trend is moving in the opposite direction towards SaaSy tools. Luckily, Canonical now has both.

And, says Silber, the roadmap for Landscape is moving up cloudy infrastructure management tools, lining up with the Ubuntu 10.04 Long Term Service (LTS) release due next month, which has the Eucalyptus cloud framework embedded in it. The cloudy management features in the future Landscape will not just work with the Ubuntu-Eucalyptus combination, but also on public clouds like Amazon EC2, where Ubuntu has been the most popularly deployed operating system on the service for some time.

Helping build cloudy infrastructure is not the only thing that will help Canonical grow. The company has a lot of grunt work to do, as every operating system provider does, in getting as many commercial applications - the database, middleware, and application software that companies deploy - certified atop its platform as possible. So how is application certification process going with Ubuntu?

"It's coming along," says Silber. "We frankly still have work to do in that area. It's something that we're seeing and expecting much improvement for with the Ubuntu 10.04 release coming out in April. We'll have a rolling series of announcements with ISVs announcing their support, and 10.04 is important because it is an LTS release and on the server has a five-year support cycle.

"That's really the one enterprises rally around both in terms of use and ISV support. So we are growing there, and will continue to grow, and not just in the traditional open source ISVs - like the Alfrescos and the Openbravos of the world - but in the more traditional enterprise ISVs. But we admittedly have work to do in that area."

Don't expect Canonical to say anything like this any time soon. If it runs on RHEL, it will run on Ubuntu. But, Silber says that Canonical is targeting the key subset of commercial applications that run on RHEL and SLES to get them certified. Oracle's databases are not certified, by the way, even though Oracle's own developers do use Ubuntu internally. MySQL, now under control of Oracle, obviously is certified to run on Ubuntu. The two companies have what Silber calls a "complicated but positive relationship."

The same holds true with the top-tier server makers, many of whom certify Ubuntu to run on their machines and yet do not go all the way and pre-install it, offering it alongside Windows, RHEL, and SLES. Silber would love to see Ubuntu take up its rightful position as the fourth pre-installed alternative, of course, but she's not as concerned with this as ensuring that Ubuntu gets certified to run on server iron.

"As ISVs are aligning around the 10.04 release, you'll see the server vendors do the same for certification," says Silber. Sometimes the server makers do the certification, sometimes Canonical does it in conjunction with the hardware maker. "In the server world, in terms of pre-installation, it doesn't matter that much. According to the data that we have seen, the vast majority of users re-install whatever operating system they want, and that the pre-installed server operating system is not that critical.

"The certification is critical because customers need to know that if they have a problem, they can call people. In the server world, pre-installation is something we want, but it is not critical. In the consumer world, pre-installation is the critical piece. There are only so many people in the world who are going to download and install an operating system."

Luckily for Canonical, that's a big enough pool of people to build a tidy and growing business upon. ®

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