Canonical ties Ubuntu 10.10 tightly into Amazon's cloud

Ubuntu Server's integration with EC2 offers some cool options, but it comes with vendor lock-in.

On Sunday, Canonical will release its next upgrade to Ubuntu, Version 10.10, and to hear executives talk about the server edition of this Linux distribution, it's all about the cloud -- particularly Amazon's cloud.

Why Sunday? Because that will make the 10.10 release available on 10/10/10. So we'll give the Canonical folks points for being cute. Version 10.10, also known by its code name Maverick Meekrat, is an interim release. The long-term-support release is still 10.04. Canonical likes to upgrade frequently so it always has a distribution with the cutting edge stuff in it. Every couple of years, it releases a long-term support (LTS) version that it maintains with patches and tweaks.

With 10.10, the company was going for tighter integration with the cloud. By that Canonical means one cloud in particular, Amazon's EC2. "Amazon is the main story in town, the main reason we put a lot of work into EC2," Canonical's Steve George, vice president of business development, told me. "Everything [in Ubuntu's cloud support] is using the Amazon API, so any management platform which supports the Amazon API, can manage your Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud."

That's intriguing to me. Ubuntu is open source and free. Canonical makes money on 10.10 when companies choose to pay for its support. Users can opt for a different cloud server management tool and not pay for Ubuntu's, but you cannot choose your Ubuntu cloud provider. To be fair, users can also create an on premises "private" cloud using Eucalyptus, or a combined hybrid cloud between Eucalyptus and EC2.

If you do opt to buy Canonical's management, you'll get a browser-based console called “Landscape” which is not open source.

KVM is the hypervisor technology of choice, as it is included in the Linux kernel. Xen is out -- not supported by Ubuntu in 10.10. Here's an article by Canonical that explains why Xen got the boot, (or maybe it's more accurate to say why it got kicked out of the boot-up). What it comes down to is that distro makers say that Xen didn't keep up with the latest changes to the kernel, so supporting it would mean they would have to take on the burden of updating it. (I've been told by a kernel expert that this is the reason Red Hat bought the KVM project sponsor Qumranet.)

For enterprises using Xen, Ubuntu 10.10 is another reminder that your distro makers want you to move to KVM.

One of the more interesting things Ubuntu 10.10 has done is that it lets an Amazon Machine Image (AMI), which is an instance of your Amazon cloud app, run on your local server in a KVM virtual machine. You can even put it on a USB stick and run it from that. This lets you test/dev your app without eating up charges on Amazon. Ubuntu is also sponsoring an event that lets you get a free hour on Amazon, so you can check out the cloud version of Ubuntu for a few minutes.

10.10 includes an improved version of CloudInit, a cloud configuration tool that lets users set a default locale, generate and set up SSH private keys and run custom scripts on startup of each reboot, among other options. It now has support for virtio which adds I/O virtualization to KVM. It sports a new interface for administrators, too. As you would expect, Ubuntu includes the latest version of Eucalyptus, 2.0, and has added other tools, many with cloud management in mind.

But as your program logic and data heads to the cloud, the next step is for you, the user, to bring pressure on your vendors to get a move on with standards that support cloud apps portability.

Last summer, a small storm brewed when Marten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus, suggested that Amazon's AMI are becoming some kind of de facto cloud standard. It's true that the API allows third parties to tap into Amazon's cloud (that's what an API does) but a standard isn't an API. A standard allows competing options to interoperate with each other. When Alan Shimel documented the various cloud APIs that are vying for dominance in the open source world, he noted that most of them have sprung up in opposition to Amazon's API. Red Hat's DeltaCloud is an attempt to provide cloud portability, for instance.

A year ago, I wrote about the Open Virtualization Format (OVF) standard that was supposed to address this. It allows images and data to be ported from one cloud to another, one hypervisor to another. I called that post: Why you need vendors to adopt OVF before you move to the cloud. OVF has become an ANSI standard, which is a big deal, but there's been very little progress in adoption. It's on everyone's lips and it may even be on an international standards approval fast track, yet vendors are not supporting it, especially not the 800-pound gorilla in the cloud, Amazon.

So if you dabble with the easy path Ubuntu 10.10 has set before you to move to cloud computing, push back a little. Tell Amazon and Canonical to support OVF and other cloud portability standards as they emerge. Open source is supposed to be about the freedom to choose and modify if need be. That freedom should reach to the sky.

Here are more details on the new features of Ubuntu 10.10.

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