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Ubuntu Server 10.10 rides distributed file systems

Maverick Meerkat spied in the clouds

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Canonical's work on the "Maverick Meerkat" Ubuntu 10.10 development effort has been mostly about polishing the desktop, but the commercial Linux distributor has not forgotten about the server business that increasingly pays the bills.

And for those bleeding-edge shops who want the latest, greatest Ubuntu features, it could turn out that the Meerkat is a better fit for servers and their workloads than the Ubuntu 10.04 Server Edition Long Term Support variant that came out in April — especially if they are building private clouds using the built-in Eucalyptus framework that's embedded with Ubuntu Server, deploying on Amazon's EC2 cloud, or both.

The good news is that if you have a server using those shiny new Intel Xeon 5600, 6500, or 7500 processors — or their alternatives, the Advanced Micro Devices Opteron 4100 or 6100 chips — you do not need to move to Ubuntu 10.10 on the server. Support for these processors was baked into Ubuntu 10.04 already, according to Neil Levine, vice president of corporate services at Canonical.

Ubuntu Server is one of the most popular operating systems available on the EC2 utility, and with the tweaks Canonical has made in the Maverick Meerkat server edition, the Linux kernel in an EC2 instance can be updated without having to reboot the image. Hot kernel patches are nothing new in the data center, but this has not been possible on EC2 until now, according to Levine.

Another change with the Server Edition 10.10 release is that developers can take the version of Ubuntu formatted for the Amazon Machine Image (AMI) container, which is a variant of the Xen hypervisor created especially for EC2 by Amazon, and pull it down onto a KVM hypervisor instance and run it locally to test it on their own iron. You can't redeploy that instance back on Amazon — you have to use their code to run it on their virtualized hardware — but this feature does allow Ubuntu shops to test all the code they want to deploy on EC2 instances ahead of time.

Ubuntu Server Edition 10.10 also has support for CloudInit, a configuration tool that was developed by Canonical to programmatically set up a cloudy Ubuntu instance — for example, set its default locale, set the hostname, generate and set up SSH private keys, and set up mount points — without having to log into the running instance of the Linux operating system. The CloudInit tool is so good, says Levine, that Amazon is now using it for EC2.

The server variant of Ubuntu 10.10 also comes with the GlusterFS and Ceph distributed file systems as standard components, which will be useful for both cloudy and HPC installations. GlusterFS is a general-purpose distributed file system that works with both InfiniBand and Ethernet links between storage nodes, and which makes use of Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) to link up large numbers of storage servers to create petabyte-class file systems. Ceph is also a petabyte-class file system, and runs on many different storage nodes, but achieves its performance (and resiliency) by replicating data across multiple nodes.

Levine says that Canonical has created a framework with Ubuntu Server Edition 10.10 that will allow it to eventually integrate NoSQL, Hadoop, Cassandra, and other exotic data stores and their related crunching algorithms to the distro. The first of these alternative data stores are expected in the Ubuntu 11.04 release, code-named "Natty Narwhal," but Levine did not say which ones will come first.

Meanwhile, the Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud package now combines Ubuntu Server Edition 10.10 with the latest Eucalyptus 2.0 release, which came out in August. That was right after NASA and Rackspace Hosting teamed up to create the OpenStack alternative to Eucalyptus, based on NASA's Nova cloud controller and Rackspace's cloudy storage.

Ubuntu 10.10 and Eucalyptus 2.0 both have support for Virtio, which provides a common framework for I/O virtualization using paravirtualization for Linux operating systems with KVM hypervisors as their containers. Paravirtualization ties the underlying network and I/O devices a little more tightly to the operating system guests and therefore boosts performance. Virtio provides a consistent manner of creating and interfacing with these drivers.

Levine says that Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud sports a new user interface and can now be loaded up on a USB stick so you could take the stick, load UEC up on a bunch of laptops linked to each other, and demo a running baby cloud.

To help get people interested in using Ubuntu on Amazon EC2 — and therefore want to perhaps build their own private clouds using Ubuntu as well — Canonical is launching a program called Ubuntu Server on Cloud 10. Starting with the October 10 launch — yes, that's 10/10/10 — Canonical is sponsoring one-hour of free use of Ubuntu Server Edition 10.10 on EC2. (You do not need to have an EC2 account to get the free hour, but you do need a Launchpad ID to fiddle with it.)

Ubuntu Server will be available alongside the deskside version on Sunday, October 10. You can get the server edition of Maverick Meerkat here. If you like it and you want to put it into production, El Reg detailed Canonical's rejiggered support options back in June. In short, Server Advantage support ranges from $320 to $1,200 per machine per year. ®

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