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Canonical updates Landscape manager

A sterner nursemaid for Ubuntu

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Having taken the wraps off the enterprise-grade Ubuntu 10.04 Long Term Support variant of Linux, commercial Linux distributor Canonical this morning delivered an upgrade of its companion Landscape systems management tool to keep all those Linuxes in line.

With Ubuntu 10.04, both the server edition and the desktop edition have lots more features and polish. But admins still have to manage servers and PCs, and that is a separate issue and requires a separate product from Canonical to be done on a small or a massive scale. That's what the Landscape management tool was created for.

Landscape can be used to upgrade one Ubuntu LTS release (which comes out every two years) to another, or from one standard Ubuntu release (which comes out every six months) to another. This is a very broad kind of upgrade, and one that may not be suitable for enterprises that are skittish about absorbing whole software stacks at once. But if you want to do that, Landscape can certainly do that for you. Most IT shops are looking for more control than "hit me".

With Landscape 1.5, Canonical has tweaked the tool so it can cope with the cloudy infrastructure that Canonical wants to help customers build using the Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud variant of Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. Ubuntu 10.04 includes the Eucalyptus cloud framework, which mimics Amazon's EC2 public compute cloud but which builds upon Ubuntu and KVM virtual machine partitions instead of the (what amounts to proprietary) Linux and Xen software actually used by Amazon for EC2.

But that is only half the battle. Having Eucalyptus helps you deploy virtual machine images, but you still need to patch Ubuntu Linux and elements of the Ubuntu stack as new features and security updates come out. But companies can't just blast everything out there; they need more fine-grained control because they certify and lock down software and they don't want to have unintended consequences when some element of the Ubuntu stack gets updated or upgraded.

And so, Landscape 1.5 allow system administrators to define a profile of a machine that includes the list of packages needed to do a job and a specific configuration - perhaps for a web server, for instance - and deploy that package automatically using scripts. (In this case, scripts generated by Landscape, not created by the system admin.) The idea is to automate repeated tasks, provide consistency, and eliminate errors.

The new release of the Landscape tool also has a feature called package pinning, which shields programs in an Ubuntu stack from being updated by Landscape. Sometimes, not upgrading a bit of software is just as important as upgrading it; applications may not be compatible with a new version of a database or web server, for instance, so blasting an update out there might wreak havoc.

Because cloudy infrastructure is by its very nature a bit more fuzzy than a couple of physical servers, Landscape 1.5 also has a new topology view module to help admins visualize where all the virtual machines are on their physical boxes. That includes virtual servers running on internal clouds using Ubuntu UEC as well as Amazon EC2 images and their associated Elastic Block Storage (EBS).

Landscape 1.5 can manage internal and EC2 server images, provided the EC2 images are running Ubuntu, of course. Which a very large percentage of them do, by the way.

Landscape 1.5 now supports LDAP and AD single sign-on authentication, so you can use the same username and password you use to authenticate on the corporate network to get into Landscape. Canonical has also changed Landscape so admins can register thousands of Ubuntu clients and servers at the same time, or register them from within a particular Ubuntu instance.

You can check out Landscape 1.5 here. Landscape was only available as a service through Canonical's IT infrastructure when it was delivered two years ago, but last summer, it offered a local hosted version of the service.

Landscape costs $150 per machine per year, unless you have contracts with Canonical for Ubuntu server or desktop support, in which case it's free. ®

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