Canonical's cloud-in-a-box: The Ubuntu Orange Box

Canonical had an unexpected hit at OpenStack Summit: It's an Intel-powered, cloud-in-a-box.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

When Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, the parent company of Ubuntu Linux, made his keynote speech at OpenStack Summit in Atlanta, he announced many new Ubuntu OpenStack cloud and Juju DevOps initiatives.

Here's what he didn't expect: The announcement that really grabbed the OpenStack crowd's attention was Canonical's cloud-in-a-box — Ubuntu Orange Box.

Ubuntu Orange Box
The unexpected hit of OpenStack Summit: Canonical's Ubuntu Orange Box.

The Orange Box, an OpenStack cloud in a box, is designed to be luggable; the system is a bit smaller than a roll-along suitcase. At 37.4 pounds for the unit itself (PDF Link) and 70 pounds with the accessories in its flight case, it's a bit too heavy to put above your seat. But, noted Canonical product marketing manager Mark Baker, "It's just light enough to be shipped as checked luggage."

Inside the Orange Box, you'll find ten Intel micro-servers powered by Ivy Bridge i5-3427U CPUs. Each mini-server has four cores, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 16GBs of DDR3 RAM, a 128GB SSD root disk, and a Gigabit Ethernet port. The first computer also includes a Centrino Advanced-N 6235 Wi-Fi Adapter, and 2TB Western Digital hard drive. These are all connected in a cluster with a D-Link Gigabit switch. Put it all together and you get a 40-core, 160GB RAM, 1.2TB SSD cluster in a box.

The Orange Box, which was designed by Canonical and the UK computer OEM Tranquil PC, sells for £7,575.00, or approximately $12,750.

In his keynote, Shuttleworth said that "you can do anything with these Orange Boxes." Each is loaded with Ubuntu 14.04, and OpenStack Icehouse. Every unit also includes Juju and Metal-as-a-Service (MaaS) cloud management and deployment tools. "These are a great way to learn how to use distributed systems," added Shuttleworth.

Specifically, Canonical is using them for JumpStart training. JumpStart is Canonical's OpenStack training program, which comes with an Orange Box that trainees can keep for two weeks while they learn to run OpenStack with Juju and MaaS. It also includes two full days of technical training.

So, from where Canonical sits, the Orange Box was really meant to give OpenStack cloud users a taste of Ubuntu's approach to OpenStack. They weren't meant to be a sales item in and of themselves. Baker explained, "This is a means to an end." That's what Canonical thought, anyway.

As Chris Kenyon, Canonical's senior VP for worldwide sales and business development, told me the next day: "We've had people come up to the booth wanting to order a hundred of them." Large companies look at the Orange Box and see a way to quickly and easily deploy an OpenStack cloud in remote offices and branches. Small companies see it as a one-stop way to add a private cloud to their office without any fuss or muss.

In a conversation after the keynote, Shuttleworth agreed that they hadn't expected this kind of reaction.

Now, Canonical — which has no desire to get into the hardware business at this time — is faced with enormous demand for their cloud-in-a-box. What's a company to do?

Baker conceded that the Orange Box is generating a lot of interest from corporate customers. At least one individual told me that — $12,750 price tag aside — he was impressed enough to be thinking that Canonical should "Shut up and take my money." His thought was to use it as a Steam gaming server. In fact,  Dustin Kirkland, Canonical's Cloud Solutions Product Manager, had blogged: "It also makes one hell of a Steam server -- there's a [Juju] charm for that."

Baker told me that while Canonical has no firm plans yet on how to meet the demand, the company is talking to potential customers in the EU, US, and Asian markets about their requirements. Personally, I have no doubt that via Tranquil PC, other OEMs, resellers or system integrators, Orange Boxes are going to become a popular business hardware sideline for Canonical.

I've already asked for a review unit.

Related Stories:

Editorial standards