How It’s All Coming Together for Ubuntu as the Cloud OS

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Canonical, purveyor of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, is on a quest to make Ubuntu the go-to server operating system for cloud computing. If it succeeds, it will validate the stance that there is a definite place for open source in cloud computing, and it’s at the layers where differentiation might well become a non-factor in the years to come.

Right now, all signs point to Ubuntu standing at least a puncher’s chance at success. As Canonical VP of Corporate Services Neil Levine detailed in a blog post this morning recapping a busy week for Ubuntu, the ecosystem around the company’s Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud (UEC) edition is really starting to come together. UEC is now shipping with Dell (s dell) cloud servers; UEC now includes both OpenStack and Eucalyptus as private cloud IaaS layers, and a government service-integrations firm is selling UEC to the federal government. That’s a fairly broad distribution channel — and a cloud-centric one, no less — for an up-and-coming OS, and supporting both OpenStack and Eucalyptus is key. If all goes according to plan, OpenStack will be the foundation for a broad base of public clouds, meaning Ubuntu users wanting to move workloads to the cloud or adopt hybrid cloud computing models have that flexibility. At the very least, they’ll share an API with Rackspace (s rax), which most certainly will run atop OpenStack. Eucalyptus, of course, utilizes the Amazon Web Services (s amzn) API and appears to be gaining ground, and AWS is still the go-to cloud for a majority of users.

But it might take time for Ubuntu. It’s still early days for private cloud adoption, which means the idea of adopting a new OS, along with a new IaaS software layer that uses a new hypervisor (Eucalyptus includes a native KVM hypervisor) might be a tad overwhelming for many companies. Better off just sticking with VMware (s vmw) and throwing some VMware or third-party cloud-management software — maybe even Eucalyptus Enterprise Edition — on top of that, right? Maybe, for now, but maybe not in the long term.

So it’s a good thing Ubuntu, OpenStack and Eucalyptus are all free and open-source. Use can start small, within individual departments and, like all cloud success stories, make its way into broader deployment from the bottom up. By the time most internal Platform-as-a-Service software matures enough for enterprises to start considering it, Ubuntu users will have the necessary infrastructural components in place, and they won’t be stuck with any licensing fees in order to keep it running. Some consider PaaS — a major characteristic of which is the abstraction of applications from infrastructure, therefore making OS, hypervisor and server instance concerns all but obsolete to developers — to be a Holy Grail of sorts for cloud computing. Provided they have access to capable FOSS, wise organizations, one might argue, should plan with the goal of paying as little as possible for these components when they’re no longer a real point of IT differentiation, just as some do now with physical servers.

One small caveat, of course, is Red Hat (s rht), which has an open-source cloud story of its own to tell. However, Red Hat has offerings up and down the cloud stack, from OS to PaaS, and isn’t really free, either, so it’s in a somewhat different position than is Canonical with Ubuntu. That absolutely isn’t to say Red Hat doesn’t have a strong cloud portfolio or won’t be a major cloud player — it most likely will be considerably bigger than Ubuntu — but Ubuntu could make a run at the OS market thanks in large part to its built-in cloud capabilities and its free price tag.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons contributor Frederick “FN” Noronha.

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Hi Derrick, thank you for an excellent article. Your tech journalism on Gigaom is second to none!

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