Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/04/26/ubuntu_server_drilldown/

Ubuntu floats 12,000 clouds (and counting)

Your own private Amazon

By Timothy Prickett Morgan

Posted in Operating Systems, 26th April 2010 21:53 GMT

Canonical - the commercial entity behind the Ubuntu distribution of Linux - is taking to the clouds. But will cloud builders take to the new Ubuntu 10.04 LTS and its Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud variant? It sure looks like it, if the early results with UEC are any indication.

Companies like the utility computing ideas embodied in Amazon's EC2 compute cloud and S3 storage service. But any company that has been managing its own data processing for decades is not going to trust its key applications and workloads on EC2, no matter how cheap and easy it is, no matter how secure Amazon says it is.

Established IT shops want their own internal EC2 and then the ability to burst selected workloads out onto cloud utilities they keep in reserve. The wonder is why Amazon has not already created on-premise EC2 appliances to peddle to security-crazed companies. The lack of such an EC2 appliance has left an opening for commercial Linux distributor Canonical, and it looks like it is a pretty big one. One you can't just drive a truck (pardon me, lorry) through, but a whole convoy.

According to Matt Asay, who joined the British software company back in February as chief operating officer, the company has more than 12,000 deployments of UEC, and it's seeing about 200 downloads per day at this point. UEC made its commercial debut last summer atop Ubuntu 9.04 Server Edition and was refined in the fall with Ubuntu 9.10 Server Edition.

Eucalyptus Systems, which had commercialized an open source tool for managing server images on clouds based on VMware's ESX Server hypervisor and x64 iron and adhering to Amazon's EC2 and S3 APIs, worked with Canonical to create a version of the Eucalyptus management framework that would integrate tightly with Ubuntu Server and make use of the KVM hypervisor that Canonical prefers over Xen (a tweaked version of which Amazon uses for the actual EC2 service).

Asay says that some of those 12,000 UEC engagements have been ones where Canonical has been paid to help build and support clouds, and others are just people playing around with the code. The reason why Canonical has any number to speak of is that installing the UEC product requires the installer to hit the image store, where UEC images themselves are (as the name suggests) stored.

Canonical does not put phone-home code into Ubuntu, as it violates the company's sense of user privacy, so it doesn't have any idea how many Ubuntu Server images are out there in the world - nor does it have any clue how many server nodes are being supported by those 12,000 UEC images. All the company can say is that 12,000 customers are actively using UEC, and based on the engagements where it has been involved, there are anywhere from two or three to hundreds of server nodes in these initial clouds.

Averaging it out, El Reg estimates that this represents several hundred thousand machines, or a little less than a percent of the installed server base worldwide. That's not bad for something that doesn't have the hand-holding and solidity of an LTS release.

"We don't know exactly how they are using it," explains Asay. "But what we do know is that many of them have been waiting for the LTS release so they can put UEC into production."

Long Term Cloud release

As El Reg reported last week, Ubuntu 10.04 is ready for downloads this Thursday, and this is the Long Term Support release - offering five years of support instead of the normal 18 months of an Ubuntu release - that Canonical, its ISVs, and its growing base of cloud customers have been waiting for.

If Canonical can get 12,000 customers in nine months and this is the flat part of the hockey stick for home-grown clouds, then Canonical may just find itself as the credible alternative to the RHEL-RHEV stack of Linux and KVM virtualization from Linux market leader Red Hat. That is arguably a better position than Novell is in with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, its Xen virtualization, and its desire to be a "perfect guest" on other people's hypervisors rather than being the most efficient and flexible platform on which to run other guests, as Red Hat and Canonical are trying to do.

It doesn't hurt to have the companies that are building the clouds on your side. In early March, Canonical and Intel whipped up a best practices white paper as part of Intel's Cloud Builder program to show people how to build clouds using UEC. (Intel, of course, has been known to help companies build their own clouds, notably Google). And a few weeks later, as Dell was announcing that it was mainstreaming some of its custom cloud kit as the PowerEdge-C line of servers, the server maker also said that it was certifying UEC on its cloud machinery alongside VMware's ESX Server and Microsoft's Hyper-V. In fact, UEC was the first complete infrastructure as a service (IaaS) stack certified on the Dell cloud servers, and remains the only one out now.

Don't get the wrong idea. UEC is not the only thing that is driving Ubuntu Server. Oddly enough, Linux desktop users - and typically programmers, system administrators, and other techies - are doing their part too.

Asay admits that he has been a Mac fanboi since 2002 and was among the many pundits that has been criticizing Linux vendors for years about their focus on the desktop. But Canonical, it seems, was right about what it needed to do - and in what order.

"The crowd of people that use Ubuntu on the desktop are the ones that deploy Ubuntu as a server OS and now as a cloud OS," says Asay. "People get comfortable with Ubuntu on the desktop, and then they deploy on the server."

This is, of course, exactly how Unix made it from academia to workstations and then to the data center, and it is also the same track that Windows took from the desktop to the server. So this should be no surprise. At least not to anyone who remembers history. Before there were desktop computers, minis were how new platforms got established. It is always the smaller machine that gets a market going.

What you won't see Canonical doing with Ubuntu Server Edition is get distracted. While Ubuntu will scale on large x64 boxes, the company is not looking to port to other platforms or demonstrating prowess on scale-up SMP and NUMA machines. Canonical is focused on the sweet spot of two-socket and four-socket boxes and scale out infrastructure with Ubuntu Server, says Asay. And it is not going to chase after the high-performance computing space either, which Red Hat hasn't done much with and which Novell has some sway. Canonical doesn't need these distractions to grow; it needs to have discipline and hit the targets it picks.

Depending on the metrics you look at, the momentum for Ubuntu is increasing, with Ubuntu getting around 5 to 10 per cent of current deployment market share compared to close to zero two years ago on servers, according to Asay.

"Up until now, it has been Ubuntu proving itself as the new kid on the block. I feel like we are at the inflection point on the hockey stick, which is why I joined the company." ®