Ubuntu Server and the Cloud: Notes from a Developer

Ubuntu server cloudIf cloud computing is just hype, no one has told Ubuntu server developer Dustin Kirkland, who has fascinating visions for the ways in which upcoming releases of Ubuntu might fit into the cloud.

In an interview conducted recently with Canonical employee Ahmed Kamal, Kirkland discussed a variety of development goals and accomplishments related to Ubuntu Server Edition. Here's the full clip:

Ubuntu Cloud Trends

The interview touches on a number of different facets of Ubuntu server development, and the directions in which developers are headed. What caught my attention most, however, were the cloud-related bits.

For starters, expect to see improvements to Ubuntu's EC2 and UEC cloud images, thanks to the work of Scott Moser. Beyond features like integrated grub, the images will now support kernel upgrades, even when hosted on Amazon's EC2. This latter development raises particularly exciting new possibilities since, as Kamal explained, "Previously the kernel was controlled by Amazon, so you couldn't really upgrade it, but now it's like a normal bare-metal server."

Kirkland also touched on the release of cloud-compatible images of Ubuntu desktop edition, based on Ubuntu 11.04 and the new Unity desktop environment. He didn't offer many details on how exactly this would work or which types of real-world applications Ubuntu developers envision for cloud-compatible desktop images, but a development like this sounds quite innovative -- especially since the cloud has traditionally been treated as a space mostly for server users, with little thought given to how desktops hosting might be integrated.

Most interesting of all were Kirkland's notes on his team's efforts for developing an "overall" strategy for streamlining the deployment of Ubuntu server edition within large enterprise environments. He explained that this initiative, tentatively (and boringly) titled the Ubuntu "Installation and Configuration Service," has five major components which are currently in various stages of development:

  1. Improving network-based installation of Ubuntu by taking advantage of Red Hat's Cobbler technology

  2. Making it easier to cache packages on a local network, so they can be downloaded from remote servers once and then shared over a LAN for installing Ubuntu on a number of local machines, improving network speed and efficiency

  3. Streamlining tools for triggering installations remotely, over the network

  4. Integrating Puppet for simplifying post-installation configuration of new systems. Kirkland pointed to this as a work in progress

  5. Delivering better tools for monitoring and debugging systems over the long term, once setup has been completed. Features like these also remain in development, according to Kirkland, and won't be ready until Ubuntu 11.10 or later

Streamlining enterprise deployments of Ubuntu isn't cloud-specific, of course, but many of these improvements would be applicable within a cloud environment, and would make it easier for enterprises to adopt Ubuntu as the platform for their clouds.

Although some aspects of the features described above remain a bit hazy for the moment, the fact that Ubuntu developers are so focused on the cloud makes clear that they expect it to provide a major footing for Ubuntu server edition as it competes against big-name players in the enterprise world, like Red Hat.

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