Ubuntu chases enterprise cloud with Server 14.04 release

Summary:The latest release of Ubuntu Server is heavily focused on supporting cloud and scale-out computing platforms.

Canonical is trying to position the Ubuntu OS as integral to enterprises expanding onto cloud and scale-out computing platforms.

That ambition is reflected in the make-up of Ubuntu Server 14.04 LTS, the latest release of the operating system, which will be available to download on Thursday.

As with previous LTS releases, 14.04 includes the open source cloud infrastructure deployment and management framework OpenStack, in this case the latest version known as Icehouse.

With 14.04 Canonical has also certified the OS to run on 64-bit ARM-based microservers , touted as an efficient way of running simple or parallelisable workloads, such as serving web content, at scale.

The release also introduces support for the Docker containerisation engine, which provides some of the scalability and portability of benefits of virtualisation but requires less underlying memory and storage.

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, is hopeful the 14.04 release, and its continued integration with OpenStack, will drive businesses to broaden their use of Ubuntu.

"For several years now there's been very rapid informal adoption of Ubuntu [by enterprise]," he said.

"Last year we saw there were more Ubuntu web servers installed by corporates than CentOS web servers. So that's a fairly profound shift in the way the average company is doing Linux infrastructure, but that shift was not registering at the CIO's office.

"You could go into the CIO's office and say 'How much Ubuntu do you use?' and they'd say 'We don't use Ubuntu'. Then you could point them at hundreds of web servers they are running on Ubuntu there and then.

"Because of OpenStack there's been a real shift in CIO awareness of Ubuntu and that of course has accelerated the question, 'What else can we do with Ubuntu?'."

Shuttleworth forsees CIOs saying of Ubuntu 'We're using it for web, for these lightweight workloads, a ton of it on the cloud and we're building clouds with it.' and going on to ask 'Why aren't we using it for our general-purpose Linux platform?'.

What's new in 14.04

OpenStack

Key to Canonical's ambitions for Ubuntu to be a key part of cloud platform stacks is the inclusion of OpenStack, with 14.04 shipping with the latest OpenStack version, known as Icehouse.

Icehouse comes on the heels of some trenchant criticisms of OpenStack, namely that some key software packages that make up the cloud infrastructure framework are unreliable.

The software singled out as having stability problems towards the end of last year was in the projects handling networking.

Icehouse should see the deprecation of networking features in Nova (the compute service) in favour of Neutron (the networking service). Baker said that Icehouse should introduce various additions to networking capabilities, citing better IPv6 support in Neutron.

Icehouse will also bring further improvements to data "robustness and stability" of database components, according to Baker.

"We've got better support for highly available services. The MySQL and messaging components in OpenStack are now improved in terms of being able to have active-active failover using Percona XtraDB or Galera, so that we're removing those single points of failure."

Icehouse also introduces automated installation via the TripleO package, bare metal providing via Ironic, a queuing and notification service called Marconi and database as a service offering Trove.

Ubuntu server product manager at Canonical, Mark Baker, describes OpenStack as "the single most important technology" in the 14.04 release and points to deployments of cloud platforms using OpenStack within companies such as Best Buy and Time Warner as evidence of enterprise adoption.

"There's certain types of workloads organisations want to keep in-house in on-premise cloud, and they see OpenStack as helping them achieve that."

Other industry watchers are less upbeat about OpenStack's appeal to business, with Gartner analyst Alessandro Perilli describing enterprise penetration of OpenStack as "minimal" and saying the community around the platform don't know how to sell it to companies.

Canonical also runs OIL, the OpenStack interoperability lab, and is working with companies like Cisco, Dell, HP and EMC and others to certify a host of software and hardware as being compatible with OpenStack.

Docker

Docker creates a software container that provides an isolated and portable sandbox for an application to run inside. These containers can be ported to other machines running the Docker engine, providing a relatively pain-free way of moving and deploying applications to new machines.

The team behind Docker describe the technology as offering a virtual machine (VM) without the overhead of a VM.

"As scale-out and cloud computing evolves how you manage those units of compute becomes more and more significant. Containers are very interesting," said Canonical's Baker.

"The upside is it's more efficient, you can squeeze more of these things onto one box compared to using a hypervisor."

Where Docker's containers differ from a typical VM is that while each VM will typically run applications on its own separate guest operating system, multiple software containers can share access to the kernel of an underlying host OS. This shared resource allows containers to have a smaller memory and storage footprint than VMs.

However each container still has the ability to use separate application executables or software libraries, for example allowing each app to run different versions of libraries if need be.

These containers don't provide the full system isolation offered by VMs however.

Docker uses the Linux kernel's LXC CGroups, and Namespaces code to create its lightweight software containers.

Docker containers are supported by a number of platforms, including Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

ARM architecture support

Another emerging technology platform that Canonical want Ubuntu to support is that of hyperscale architectures designed to server scale-out workloads, such as serving web content.

Scale-out workloads are tasks that can be carried out in parallel, allowing them to be split between multiple computers. As demand for scale-out workloads grows, so more servers can simply be added to meet it.

To meets these tasks companies such as HP have begun offering microserver clusters, energy sipping, small form factor servers that can be packed into ultra-dense clusters of hundreds of machines.

Although many early microservers have been built on Intel Atom-based systems, systems are planned using forthcoming 64-bit ARMv8-based SoCs (system on a chip).

With 14.04 various ARMv8 architecture-based 64-bit SoCs are certified to run Ubuntu LTS. These include Applied Micro X-Gene and Cavium Thunder processors.

Ubuntu is supported on IBM POWER, ARM64, x86, and x64 architetures. Canonical hopes the range of supported platforms and availability of commercial support it provides will drive uptake of Ubuntu by enterprise.

"We have a strong interest in the full spectrum of computing. That ranges from the very industrial, hyperscale very dense large scale cloud infrastructure," said Shuttleworth.

"If you think of a rack of ARM-based servers what's unusual about that rack is instead of having 20 servers in a rack you may well have 400 servers.

"At 400 servers you start to think about those servers as more like cloud instances than traditional servers. What we have tried to do is to say 'Let's allow people to think about a rack of microserver instances as capacity they can tap into on demand, just like a cloud'."

Other new features

Ubuntu 14.04 LTS includes new versions of Juju and MAAS (metal as a service) tools, which are used to design, deploy and scale services across private and public cloud and bare metal platforms.

The latest version of MaaS adds support for new systems, such as AMD SeaMicro SM15000 appliances and Cisco UCS servers. Another feature mentioned by Baker was high availability and multi-region support.

The release also includes the latest Firefly release of the Ceph distributed object store and file system, which includes support for erasure coding that aids with the reconstruction of corrupted data. Baker said there's also an embedded web server for the Rados gateway, the RESTful API that provides an interface to Ceph storage clusters.

The 14.04 release also includes a new version of OpenVSwitch, the open source multilayer virtual switch, with full kernel integration.

Ubuntu 14.04 LTS Server release will be available for download from 17 April.

Topics: Cloud

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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