When Canonical released Ubuntu 19.10, a lot of attention was paid to Ubuntu continuing its support of the Linux desktop. Fair enough, but what's more important to Ubuntu's bottom line is what this release tells us about its enterprise plans going forward.
As Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth said, "In the 15 years since the first Ubuntu release, we have seen Ubuntu evolve from the desktop to become the platform of choice across public cloud, open infrastructure, IoT, and AI." The Linux desktop still matters, especially for developers and system administrators, but Canonical's real cash comes from the cloud.
I say "plans" because Ubuntu 19.10, Eoan Ermine, isn't a long-term support (LTS) version. No one -- I hope! -- will build a business around an operating system with a nine-month support lifetime. The next LTS edition, Ubuntu 20.04, "Focal Fossa, won't be out until April 2020. But we can see what it's likely to have by looking at Eoan Ermine.
First, Ubuntu uses a more cutting-edge Linux kernel than its rivals. For example, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 8 uses August 2018's 4.18 Linux kernel, while Ubuntu 19.10 uses September 2019's 5.3.0 Linux kernel. While you can't read too much into supporting a specific kernel, this indicates Ubuntu's aggressive approach to new programs.
Another example of this is how fast Canonical gets the latest Kubernetes, the container orchestration program, out the door. With Kubernetes' quarterly release cycle, keeping up with it is difficult. But Carmine Rimi, formerly Canonical's product manager of Kubernetes and AI, said Canonical adds new releases of Kubernetes to Ubuntu as quickly as practical. For instance, "We were on [Kubernetes] 1.14 within two weeks [of release] and so if that's important to you, that's one way we ensure that our offering is great," Rimi explained.
This new Linux distro also underlines how important Kubernetes is to Canonical. As Rimi said, "Kubernetes will be the platform of choice for application development because of the massive ecosystem of software that can work with it."
Indeed, you may already be using Kubernetes on Ubuntu on your public cloud: "We don't support just our offering of Kubernetes, We also support many other public cloud offerings for Kubernetes. Under the covers, they all operate on Ubuntu, which means we are also here to support our customers and other customers in that space."
He's not wrong. On Amazon Web Services EC2 alone, Ubuntu is the top Linux cloud distribution.
To help people master Kubernetes, Canonical offers MicroK8. This is a single-node cluster that developers can install with packaging tools such as Snap -- not just on Ubuntu, but on many other Linux flavors, MacOS, and Windows. With it, you can get your feet wet with Kubernetes on your own desktop. As Shuttleworth told me when we last spoke about the desktop: "When we started, my simple goal, the idea was to give developers a desktop."
Today, the desktop can be used to extend across the entire, complex technology infrastructure.
With Ubuntu 19.10, Canonical has also brought enhanced edge computing capabilities, by adding strict confinement to MicroK8s. In this context, strict confinement means your test Kubernetes cluster has complete isolation from the underlying operating system. Besides being useful as a Kubernetes testbed, with strict confinement and MicroK8s add-ons, such as Istio, Knative, CoreDNS, Prometheus, and Jaeger, you can use MicroK8s to make small footprint Kubernetes clusters suitable for edge gateways. Better still, you can deploy these Kubernetes clusters securely at the edge with a single command. This builds on existing snaps for edge gateways already available including EdgeX and AWS IoT Greengrass.
The new Ubuntu also comes with Kubeflow, the Kubernetes machine learning (ML) toolkit, as an add-on to MicroK8s. With it, developers can set-up, develop, test, and scale ML and AI programs. All dependencies are included with automatic updates and transactional security fixes, so users can spend less time configuring and more time innovating.
Ubuntu 19.10 also ships with NVIDIA drivers embedded in the ISO image. Besides making gamers happy, this improves the performance and overall experience for AI/ML developers using NVIDIA hardware.
For all of Canonical's passion for Kubernetes, it hasn't given up on the OpenStack Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud. Ubuntu 19.10 ships with the latest OpenStack release Train. Train provides live migration extensions. This enables you to move your machines from one hypervisor to another without shutting down your server's operating system.
What all this means is Canonical, like Red Hat and SUSE, is still a Linux company at heart, but it's the enterprise cloud and container capacities, which make up the rest of the company's offerings, are growing ever more important.