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Ubuntu hammers out Metal-as-a-Service tool for microservers

When virtualisation isn't enough

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Canonical has unveiled a Metal-as-a-Service (MaaS) offering to provision and manage high-density Ubuntu microservers running hyper-scale computing centres and clouds.

The Linux shop claimed MaaS would allow administrators to set up and allocate thousands of tightly packed racks to different groups of users, adding the latest software without IT teams needing to physically visit each machine. MaaS will debut with the Ubuntu 12.04 Beta 2 and is scheduled to drop with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, due on 26 April.

Canonical and Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth told The Reg he's "confident" a "major vendor" would certify MaaS on its server hardware soon.

MaaS extends Canonical's JuJu dev-ops software for setting up a cloud by adding the capacity to remotely manage, provision and allocate hardware servers.

MaaS allows admins to automate firmware updates, burn and test, and also download and test cloud-based applications without need for virtualisation.

The idea is that though MaaS and Ubuntu it becomes easier to manage and deploy a growing number of high-density racks based on ARM and Intel's Atom in a burgeoning category of microserver computing.

Canonical is hoping MaaS will help Ubuntu consolidate its presence against Red Hat Linux and RHEL derivatives such as CentOS as the choice for running clouds.

Virtualisation is one popular way to allocate server capacity to different apps and groups of users, by partitioning the physical machine's hard drive.

The idea of MaaS, however, is that you get a whole server – not a subset of a server.

Ubuntu 11.10, delivered in October, included a server variant that would boot on ARM-based machines while Hewlett-Packard in November unveiled Project Moonshot to promote microprocessors, which combine low-power chips with lots of capacity. HP is planning the Redstone Server Development Platform, extending its ProLiants using chips designed by Calxeda and based on ARM. The first version of MaaS will run on x86 with ARM added for "specific vendors".

"Thousands of nodes in a rack is going to become commonplace with Atom and AMD. No one wants to rack and stack and thousands of nodes," Shuttleworth said.

"The advanced data centre operators are watching their node count go through the roof. Every new rack that comes in has more and more nodes – people doing data centre in a truck are saving time, but you still have the software load.

"MaaS is letting you commoditise metal. You are saying give me a physical serve without the virtualisation," Shuttleworth said.

MaaS extends JuJu, which lets you package up and deploy scripts and APIs for running a cloud. At launch, JuJu only supported Amazon's AWS, although there were plans to extend. MaaS supports OpenStack, Hadoop, CloudStack and Cloud Foundry, Canonical said.

"We've done a huge amount of work on provisioning tools in the cloud – deploying to Hadoop in the cloud – so those same tools works perfectly on the metal. If you've got a workload that you have tested on EC2 you should then be able to deploy on the metal with network services," Shuttleworth said.

MaaS will work with LXC containers on workstations.

The Canonical founder was unwilling to say how many machines MaaS could actually scale to run and manage. He called the version that will ship this month a "first release" and said it would be updated with each of the planned four LTS point releases. ®

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