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Canonical - the commercial entity behind the Ubuntu distribution of Linux - is taking to the clouds. But will cloud builders take to the new Ubuntu 10.04 LTS and its Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud variant? It sure looks like it, if the early results with UEC are any indication.

Companies like the utility computing ideas embodied in Amazon's EC2 compute cloud and S3 storage service. But any company that has been managing its own data processing for decades is not going to trust its key applications and workloads on EC2, no matter how cheap and easy it is, no matter how secure Amazon says it is.

Established IT shops want their own internal EC2 and then the ability to burst selected workloads out onto cloud utilities they keep in reserve. The wonder is why Amazon has not already created on-premise EC2 appliances to peddle to security-crazed companies. The lack of such an EC2 appliance has left an opening for commercial Linux distributor Canonical, and it looks like it is a pretty big one. One you can't just drive a truck (pardon me, lorry) through, but a whole convoy.

According to Matt Asay, who joined the British software company back in February as chief operating officer, the company has more than 12,000 deployments of UEC, and it's seeing about 200 downloads per day at this point. UEC made its commercial debut last summer atop Ubuntu 9.04 Server Edition and was refined in the fall with Ubuntu 9.10 Server Edition.

Eucalyptus Systems, which had commercialized an open source tool for managing server images on clouds based on VMware's ESX Server hypervisor and x64 iron and adhering to Amazon's EC2 and S3 APIs, worked with Canonical to create a version of the Eucalyptus management framework that would integrate tightly with Ubuntu Server and make use of the KVM hypervisor that Canonical prefers over Xen (a tweaked version of which Amazon uses for the actual EC2 service).

Asay says that some of those 12,000 UEC engagements have been ones where Canonical has been paid to help build and support clouds, and others are just people playing around with the code. The reason why Canonical has any number to speak of is that installing the UEC product requires the installer to hit the image store, where UEC images themselves are (as the name suggests) stored.

Canonical does not put phone-home code into Ubuntu, as it violates the company's sense of user privacy, so it doesn't have any idea how many Ubuntu Server images are out there in the world - nor does it have any clue how many server nodes are being supported by those 12,000 UEC images. All the company can say is that 12,000 customers are actively using UEC, and based on the engagements where it has been involved, there are anywhere from two or three to hundreds of server nodes in these initial clouds.

Averaging it out, El Reg estimates that this represents several hundred thousand machines, or a little less than a percent of the installed server base worldwide. That's not bad for something that doesn't have the hand-holding and solidity of an LTS release.

"We don't know exactly how they are using it," explains Asay. "But what we do know is that many of them have been waiting for the LTS release so they can put UEC into production."

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