Ubuntu Linux heads to the clouds

As Ubuntu 11.10's release date approaches, it becomes ever clearer that Canonical plans on taking this popular Linux distribution to the cloud.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The first Ubuntu circle of friends logo.

The first Ubuntu circle of friends logo.

Last week, Ubuntu Linux's parent company Canonical CEO Jane Silber announced at the OpenStack cloud software conference that HP has chosen Ubuntu as the lead host and guest operating system for its Public Cloud. That's impressive. It's Canonical's biggest enterprise win to date, but that's only a hint of what Canonical is up to with the cloud.

Canonical started its move to OpenStack from Eucalyptus in February. While Canonical has promised its not going to leave its Eucalyptus users without support, the company is clearly pinning all its cloud plans going forward around OpenStack.

To be exact, according the company, "Ubuntu Cloud Infrastructure now includes OpenStack as the core infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) element of Ubuntu Cloud. Canonical's investment in lightweight container technology LXC alongside the well-known KVM and Xen virtualization technologies, has resulted in a tightly integrated cloud infrastructure solution that works across all hardware platforms. That means any business can deploy Ubuntu Cloud Infrastructure on their preferred server platform today."

HP and Canonical are now working together in HP's private cloud beta to make certain that it will work well. Since Ubuntu is the reference OS for OpenStack and this is a major play by HP a lot depends on Canonical getting this right.

This isn't just about some business cloud play though. I talked with Mark Baker, Canonical's server product manager, and he kept telling me about how Ubuntu plans on making it easy for companies to deploy to Ubuntu-based clouds with Juju.

Juju you ask? Juju, formerly Ensemble, lets you easily start-up and manage application services on the cloud. According to Canonical, "Juju is a next generation service deployment and orchestration framework. It has been likened to APT for the cloud. With juju, different authors are able to create service charms independently, and make those services coordinate their communication through a simple protocol. Users can then take the product of different authors and very comfortably deploy those services in an environment. The result is multiple machines and components transparently collaborating towards providing the requested service."

So say you want to launch a blogging site on the Web. With Juju you invoke the charms for say WordPress, MySQL and a Web server and, ta-da, you have a blogging site. Need more DBMS power or more Web servers just add as required with Juju. Don't need them anymore, take them down. No fuss. No muss.

Juju was a technology preview in Ubuntu 11.04, but it's real in Ubuntu 11.10. The cloud behind it though isn't just for servers. No, in Ubuntu's new world view, the desktop is part of the cloud.

Gerry Carr, Canonical's marketing manager, told me that the Ubuntu 11.10 desktop is a step from a PC being simply a piece of hardware on your desk. Eventually, it will equally be a gateway to the power of the cloud. "We're moving away form concept of local PC to one where the local PC and cloud will be equally important."

Canonical is already working on this. For example, Ubuntu One, Canonical's combination cloud storage and music streaming service, is now available not just for Ubuntu users on Ubuntu but on Android, iOS and, get ready for it, Windows as well.

So, what's a nice Linux desktop feature doing on Windows? According to Carr, it's because Canonical "doesn't want to restrict you to the Ubuntu desktop. We're moving away from the concept of the local PC to the cloud. On the cloud, content is king and we must liberate content across multiple devices."

In short, sure Canonical wants you to run an Ubuntu desktop, but they also know you can't always do that, and what's more important is that you have access to your data, your music, whatever, no matter what you're running locally. And, the best way to do that, according to Canonical, will be from Ubuntu-powered clouds.

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