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Ubuntu now has 'cloud computing inside'

Ubuntu 9.10 will be code-named Karmic Koala. For data centers, what is most interesting is the degree to which this Koala is reaching for the clouds.

Ubuntu 9.10 will be code-named Karmic Koala, Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth announced on a posting on the ubuntu-devel-announce list Friday. As usual, efforts surrounding the Linux distribution are divided between two target deployments, desktop and server. The desktop goals are primarily around "first impressions," with Shuttleworth indicating that "boot will be beautiful." He also promises that the appearance of Ubuntu will change significantly:

The desktop will have a designer's fingerprints all over it - we're now beginning the serious push to a new look. Brown has served us well but the Koala is considering other options.

I am sure others here at CNET will give the desktop portions of the announcement the serious treatment it deserves, but the server functionality that Shuttleworth announced is much more interesting to the cloud-computing community.

It sounds like the majority of the work on the server side in Karmic Koala will be around cloud computing. Here is the entire text of that portion of the announcement:

A good Koala knows how to see the wood for the trees, even when her head is in the clouds. Ubuntu aims to keep free software at the forefront of cloud computing by embracing the API's of Amazon EC2, and making it easy for anybody to setup their own cloud using entirely open tools. We're currently in beta with official Ubuntu base AMI's for use on Amazon EC2. During the Karmic cycle we want to make it easy to deploy applications into the cloud, with ready-to-run appliances or by quickly assembling a custom image. Ubuntu-vmbuilder makes it easy to create a custom AMI today, but a portfolio of standard image profiles will allow easier collaboration between people doing similar things on EC2. Wouldn't it be apt for Ubuntu to make the Amazon jungle as easy to navigate as, say, APT?

What if you want to build an EC2-style cloud of your own? Of all the trees in the wood, a Koala's favorite leaf is Eucalyptus. The Eucalyptus project, from UCSB, enables you to create an EC2-style cloud in your own data center, on your own hardware. It's no coincidence that Eucalyptus has just been uploaded to universe and will be part of Jaunty - during the Karmic cycle we expect to make those clouds dance, with dynamically growing and shrinking resource allocations depending on your needs. A savvy Koala knows that the best way to conserve energy is to go to sleep, and these days even servers can suspend and resume, so imagine if we could make it possible to build a cloud computing facility that drops its energy use virtually to zero by napping in the midday heat, and waking up when there's work to be done. No need to drink at the energy fountain when there's nothing going on. If we get all of this right, our Koala will help take the edge off the bear market.

If that sounds rather open and nebulous, then we've hit the sweet spot for cloud computing futurology. Let me invite you to join the server team at UDS in Barcelona, when they'll be defining the exact set of features to ship in October.

In case you missed that, let me break it down:

  • Ubuntu server will target promoting cloud computing through entirely open-source software.

  • For those wishing to manage clouds, Ubuntu will apparently contain tools that leverage the Amazon APIs. (I would hope the GoGrid APIs are also under consideration, considering its apparent consideration by a variety of Amazon's competitors.)

  • Canonical will create standard Amazon Machine Images from Karmic Koala, essentially creating "ready-to-run" appliances that will serve as "standard builds" to the Amazon community.

  • Don't want to commit to Amazon? Would you rather build a cloud on your own infrastructure to get a feel for things while the public clouds "cure"? Starting with Karmic's predecessor, Jaunty Jaguar Jackalope (soon to go to code freeze), UC Santa Barbara's open-source cloud project, Eucalyptus, will be included in every install package.

I'm certain that Simon Wardley, now Canonical's services manager for software, has had tremendous influence on this direction. His long-term drive for open-sourced standards in the cloud-computing space makes the selection of tools here quite logical. It is quite possible that the exact platforms included in Koala will change over the next several months, but the open software philosophy that Shuttleworth, Wardley, and the Ubuntu community espouse will guide their choices.

How important is this for the future of cloud computing? Only time will tell. There are already other open-source projects with "baked in" images on Amazon (RedHat not being the least of them), and Eucalyptus is a research project that its founder readily admits is not intended for production use without much further work.

That being said, the Ubuntu crew is in my view the Apple of Linux, and will likely change the game not through the infrastructure itself, but the user experience they introduce to building and managing clouds.

That, I can't wait to see.