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Ubuntu dressed in cheap elastic support, sent out in public

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Canonical's Ubuntu Linux variant is popular out there on the public clouds of the world, but there is a serious mismatch between how support contracts are sold for bare-metal servers used inside corporate data centers and how virtual servers are deployed and used out there on the cloud. And Canonical wants to fix that and make a bit of money, too.

Last June, Canonical rejigged its support services for companies deploying Ubuntu Linux server and desktop variants with its Ubuntu Advantage offering.

Even though this new support structure offered tiered support levels in terms of coverage time and features, and even had add-ons to give companies a break if they were deploying Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud to build an internal clone of Amazon's EC2 cloud, what it did not do is provide pricing for support contracts running on external public clouds like EC2.

So, according to Nick Barcet, cloud solutions product manager at Canonical, one of a number of things happened. In some cases, customers would buy a support contract for all of their instances, but this got pricey. Or they might buy a contract for an internally deployed Ubuntu stack that was the same as the one they put out on a cloud and then make service calls.

Customers typically replicate a bunch of identical instances of an Ubuntu stack on the public clouds, says Barcet, and many Ubuntu shops would buy Ubuntu Advantage coverage for one instance and still make support calls on a second, third, or fourth instance that was a clone of the original.

The problem was not that customers were not trying to pay for support, but rather that the offering Canonical had did not meet the use case.

"Most of our support models were based on a per machine or per CPU model, but this doesn't fit the cloud usage," explains Barcet. "People want elasticity."

The virtual machines out there on the public cloud are not full servers, but slices of physical machines that run a full copy of an operating system. Customers spin these up and down as they need, and they wanted a support contract that allowed them to do so without having to keep track of support licenses or fudge it in any way.

For its part, Canonical wants to get a fair revenue stream across the number of virtual machines it is actually covering at a company, not just the gold images customers have set up.

The Ubuntu Advantage Cloud Guest fixes these issues. If you deploy Ubuntu Server on a public cloud, you buy one support contract and it covers up to 100 virtual machine images running Canonical's Linux and using its related support tools and services. Canonical doesn't care what cloud you deploy on, and you can move instances from one cloud to another at will.

At the moment, Canonical is offering support for Ubuntu server instances that are deployed on Amazon's EC2 cloud as well as GoGrid and Rackspace Hosting clouds. Barcet says Canonical is in talks with other cloud suppliers, but that these three cover the majority of cloud users today.

Ubuntu Advantage Cloud Guest includes 24x7 premium support via phone and web from Canonical's support team, with one hour turnaround time on Severity Level 1 bugs.

The support package also includes access to Canonical's online Landscape Ubuntu image management tool, which runs in Canonical's own data center and can reach out to the internal data center or to the public cloud to configure, monitor, and patch Ubuntu Server. The cloud support also includes Canonical's Legal Assurance indemnification against possible Linux intellectual property lawsuits.

The Cloud Guest support has an annual base fee of $8,000 for up to 100 virtual machine instances, plus an $800 per month access fee for the Landscape tool and access to support. Although this is not clear in the online description, Barcet says that the annual base fee includes that first $800 in monthly fees.

All told, a year of Cloud Guest will run customers $16,800 or a minimum of $168 per virtual Ubuntu server. Obviously, if you deploy fewer machines, the relative price of supporting each virtual Ubuntu instance will go up.

The Cloud Guest support is not easily comparable to the Ubuntu Advantage Server support packages, which are tied to a whole physical server and which include various features not available in the Cloud Guest support, such as support for high availability and clustering tools.

The closet support offering from Canonical that resembles Cloud Guest is probably Ubuntu Advantage Server Advanced Edition, which costs $1,200 per year for 24x7 coverage and which has the Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud add-on for an extra $600 per year.

Assuming that you put it on a two-socket Xeon server with six cores per socket and put a VM on each core, that works out to about $150 per VM for virtualized instances of internal servers using Ubuntu Server on internal machines, which is comparable to what the company is charging for public cloud support on a per VM basis.

While the Cloud Guest support currently tops out at 100 VMs, Barcet says that Canonical is willing to do a custom contract for customers who need to support larger numbers of VMs. Right now, Canonical believes that the 100 VM cap will allow it to address 90 per cent of the customer needs out there on the public cloud, based on what actual customers on EC2, GoGrid, and Rackspace Cloud are doing.

Generally speaking, Canonical is happy to do volume pricing with the price per unit going down as the volumes go up, but Barcet said he would not conjecture what a much large number of VMs running Ubuntu out on the public cloud might cost without having input from customers first. ®

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