Ubuntu goes more mobile with 8.10 release
Servers get better Java, RAID, and virtualization
The gradual and metered improvement with the Ubuntu variant of Linux created and supported by commercial Linux distributor Canonical takes another step forward this week with the release of "Intrepid Ibex", which will be distributed as Ubuntu 8.10.
Ubuntu 8.10 is a regular release of the Linux variant, not one with what Canonical calls Long Term Support, or LTS. Regular releases of Ubuntu come out every six months and have 18 months of support from Canonical for both the server and the client. LTS releases are more hardened and have more stringent testing and certification of Linux applications, and only come out every two years; LTS releases have three years of support from Canonical on desktops and five years on servers.
Back when the feature set for Ubuntu 8.10 was being hammered out by the Ubuntu development community, Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical's chief executive officer and the founder of the Ubuntu project, said that the Interpid Ibex development cycle would have the desktop, not the server, as the focal point "so that Ubuntu works as well on a high-end workstation as it does on a feisty little subnotebook".
The other goal of the 8.10 release was to expand beyond WiFi connectivity and to have the network manager in Ubuntu link into 3G networks, thereby allowing mobile PC users to stay even more connected than they can be with just wired and WiFi networks alone. "Ubuntu 8.10 sees us lay the groundwork for a radically different, more mobile, desktop computing environment of the next two years," explains Jane Silber, chief operating officer at Canonical and the head of online services for the Linux distributor.
"Our rapid release cycle means we can deliver the elements to support this future faster, more fully realized, and more attractively packaged than traditional OS vendors. Ubuntu 8.10 has many features that sign-post how Linux will provide the drive and innovation in desktop computing."
The first step in this process is to embrace 3G networks, and the network manager in Ubuntu 8.10 can detect and connect to 3G networks via 3G modems, through dongles, through a mobile phone attached to a machine, or through a Bluetooth link. There are a lot of different 3G connectivity options, and Canonical wants to simplify it with the Intrepid Ibex. And further enhancing the portability of Ubuntu 8.10, the operating system can write an instance of itself to a USB flash memory stick, which is both faster and easier than burning a CD or DVD and allows end users to carry a copy of Ubuntu with them and use it anywhere.
Another small change in Ubuntu 8.10 Desktop Edition is a single-click button that allows end users to fire up a guest session so someone can borrow your computer and use it to, for instance, check their email or browse the Web without giving the borrower full access to your computer.
Canonical has also, according to Chris Kenyon, who is in charge of OEM services at the company, worked out a deal with the BBC to open up the radio and television content the news organization generates to Ubuntu users and allow them to access this content for free to users of the Totem media player in Ubuntu. The BBC has committed to use open codecs for its content as much as possible as part of its agreement with Ubuntu; the content access is enabled through a plug-in for Totem.
The Ubuntu 8.10 release is based on the Linux 2.6.27 kernel, which Canonical says has better hardware support and a number of bug fixes compared to the Ubuntu 8.04 LTS variant, nicknamed "Hardy Heron", announced in April of this year and based on the Linux 2.6.24 kernel. Ubuntu 8.10 uses the Gnome 2.24, which "has tons of bug fixes and new features", according to the release notes, as well as the X.Org 7.4 X window environment. Network Manager is now at the 0.7 level (more on this below), and the Samba Windows-compatible print and file server is at the 3.2 level. Users of Ubuntu 8.04 LTS can upgrade to Ubuntu 8.10 automatically, but those of earlier releases have to find an upgrade path into Ubuntu 8.04 first and then do a two-step (or, in some cases, a three-step) upgrade. (Just a reminder - Ubuntu 7.04 reached end of life on October 19.)
Like Ubuntu 8.04 LTS, Ubuntu 8.10 runs on 32-bit X86 and 64-bit X64 machinery, but it does not have support for Sun Microsystems's multicore Sparc T1, T2, and T2+ processors. The Ubuntu 6.06 LTS, 7.04, and 7.10 released did have support for the Sparc T1 processors, and a few years ago Sun and Canonical made a lot of noise about this support. But Sparc T processors are no longer part of the standard Ubuntu distribution, and Sparc T support has been put out to the same ports.ubuntu.com pasture where Power processors now graze.
Ubuntu 8.10 comes in a Server Edition as well, of course. Kenyon says that the feature set in Ubuntu 8.10 Server Edition was driven by a survey that Canonical did as part of the distribution of the server version of 8.04 LTS, which had over 100,000 respondents.
The main improvements are a new virtual machine builder, appropriately enough called VM-Builder, that allows system administrators to work from a Ubuntu command line to set up a virtual instance of Linux to be created in under five minutes. The tool can deploy instances to Xen, ESX Server, or KVM virtual machines.
Ubuntu 8.04 LTS also had a stripped down, standalone version called Ubuntu JeOS (pronounded "juice") that was created to be the Linux to host software appliances that in turn run inside VMware ESX Server or KVM virtual machine partitions. JeOS has now been pulled back into the Ubuntu 8.10 Server Edition so it is maintained as part of this distro. The VM-Builder tool can also be used to build customized JeOS instances and deploy them.
Digging a little deeper on the virtualization front, Ubuntu is still leaning towards the KVM hypervisor, which was developed by a company called Qumranet and commercialized in virtual desktop environments as SolidICE; Red Hat bought Qumranet back in early September for $107m in cash after deciding that KVM, which is part of the mainstream Linux kernel, will be its virtualization hypervisor of choice. Red Hat and Novell have embedded Xen hypervisors inside their latest versions, and both Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server also run inside partitions created by VMware's ESX Server, which is still the main hypervisor used in production environments.
According to Nick Barcet, Ubuntu server product manager at Canonical, the KVM implementation inside Ubuntu 8.10 Server Edition is being recommended for what he called "single host server virtualization," by which he means carving up a server into multiple pieces. But, Barcet warns, this is not a "data center ready" implementation of KVM, mainly because KVM lacks snapshotting, live migration, and other features that ESX Server and Citrix Systems' XenServer commercialized version of the open source Xen hypervisor have.
While it is hard to reckon when KVM might have such features, the acquisition of Qumranet by Red Hat will undoubtedly speed up the process; Barcet's best guess is that a fully functional, data center implementation of KVM will take about two years.
In the meantime, Ubuntu 8.10 runs inside ESX Server 3.0 and 3.5 hypervisors; in fact, Canonical is in the process of getting Ubuntu 8.04 LTS Server Edition certified on these hypervisors. The company will not go through the lengthy process of certifying Ubuntu 8.10 Server Edition on ESX Server, although Barcet says that the Linux operating certainly does work atop ESX Server. Similarly, Canonical is not yet certifying Ubuntu on the XenServer hypervisor from Citrix, but Ubuntu 8.10 is supported as a guest operating system atop XenServer and open source Xen hypervisors; Ubuntu cannot be the domain 0 supporting the Xen hypervisor itself, which is what RHEL 5 and SLES 10 do.
For the moment, Canonical is being non-committal about Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor for Windows Server 2008, which is a Xen-compatible hypervisor that many suspect is itself heavily based on Xen if not simply Xen in Windows drag. (You decompile the code and get sued by Microsoft to prove it - I'll write the story.) "At the moment, we do not have any plans for Hyper-V, or none that we have made public," says Barcet. "There is no reason for Ubuntu to not work on Hyper-V, however.
"For us, it is more a matter of resources, training, and putting together a lab to test Hyper-V before each release. And a partnership with Microsoft has not been on our radar."
Ubuntu 8.10 Server Edition now includes an integrated Apache Tomcat 6 application server and the OpenJDK Java development kit, which have not been included in Ubuntu's server distros because of code and licensing issues until now, according to Barcet. (That does not mean Ubuntu has not supported Java, so don't go overboard about what this means.)
The new server edition also can pull the ClamAV antivirus and SpamAssassin email spam filter out of the Ubuntu repository. Canonical has made improvements in the Uncomplicated Firewall that is integrated into Ubuntu to make it easier to manage, including default application profiles, and the company has bundled its client for the Landscape systems management tool for Ubuntu, announced earlier this year, into the server version as well.
Finally, Ubuntu 8.10 Server Edition supports SATA RAID controllers (sometimes called FakeRAID, which is implemented in the system BIOS) via the Device-Mapper RAID (DM-RAID) tool. These SATA RAID controllers use a relatively inexpensive chip on the motherboard to implement RAID protection for SATA disks, which means users do not have to buy expensive RAID controllers to get protection for their files.
"We are strong believers in software RAID," says Barcet. "Cheap RAID controllers have had issues with changing disk formats, and unless customers go for a very high-end RAID card, we recommend that customers use this software RAID instead." In any event, until Ubuntu 8.10, these FakeRAID software-based RAID controllers were not supported in Ubuntu. This feature alone will drive a lot of upgrades to Ubuntu 8.10.
While Ubuntu 8.10's desktop and server editions are being announced today, the software won't be ready for for download here until Thursday, October 30. And that is if everything goes well, which it sometimes doesn't. The Ubuntu servers and mirrors have been overwhelmed more than once on distribution day. Which is a good thing if you are a patient Ubuntu enthusiast.
Support prices for Ubuntu remain unchanged for this release. It costs $250 for an annual contract for 9x5 support the desktop edition, and $900 for 24x7 support. The server edition costs $750 per server per year for 9x5 support and $2,750 per server per year for 24x7 support. ®