Ubuntu Makes Cloud Strategy a Big Joke

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted Feb 24, 2009

Paul Rubens
Linux is a joke. Well, that may be a bit harsh, but Ubuntu certainly seems to be all the excuse founder Mark Shuttleworth needs to make one bad pun after another. In a recent e-mail introducing Karmic Koala, the Ubuntu release slated for late 2009, and his plans for cloud computing this is what he had to say: OS Roundup: There was no shortage of puns last week when Mark Shuttleworth unveiled Karmic Koala, the next version of Ubuntu, slated for release in late 2009, as well as Canonical's cloud computing strategy.

"... bear with me" (geddit!?) "A good Koala knows how to see the wood for the trees, even when her head is in the clouds." (Very droll.) "Wouldn't it be apt for Ubuntu to make the Amazon jungle (aaaagh!) as easy to navigate as, say, APT?"

Enough with the puns already! I think I preferred Bill Gates' "comedy act" to this.

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Still, his interest in the cloud shows he's not allowed humor to cloud his judgement. The current economic downturn makes software as a service, cloud computing and services like Amazon's EC2 much more likely to succeed as organizations turn their attention to anything that might help them get through the next few years. That's certainly the opinion of John Gantz, chief research officer at IDC.

"The economic crisis will force some companies to make technological changes they may not have made," he said earlier this month at the Intellect Annual Regent Conference 2009 in London. Other speakers echoed this view, pointing out the threat this poses to "traditional" vendors like Microsoft. Presumably, it was thinking on these lines that prompted Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform initiative announced at PDC last year (and about which, curiously, not much has been heard since.)

IBM certainly seems to agree. Earlier this month, Big Blue and Amazon announced that very shortly it will be possible "to use Amazon EC2 to build and run a range of IBM platform technologies," including DB2, Informix Dynamic Server, WebSphere sMash, WebSphere Portal Server and Lotus Web Content Management Standard Edition. It will also be possible to use existing IBM licenses on machines running in Amazon's cloud.

So back to Ubuntu. When Karmic Koala hits the scene in October, Shuttleworth hopes to make it easy for companies to deploy applications to Amazon's EC2 service either using prebuilt Ubuntu-based cloud appliances or by rolling their own custom Ubuntu-based Amazon Machine Images (AMIs).

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But wait. There's more. Something that's also generating a lot of interest at the moment is the idea of internal clouds that companies run for themselves, perhaps because they have sensitive information they don't want leaving their own data centers. There are commercial solutions, such as those offered by Cassatt, which offer everything from an automated powering on and off service for servers in a data center right up to fully automatic deployment (and bringing down) of server images on physical machines in multiple data centers (or even machines in Amazon's cloud).

To tap into this, Shuttleworth enthuses about Ubuntu integration with the Eucalyptus, an open source project that provides internal cloud type functionality. "... during the Karmic cycle we expect to make those clouds dance, with dynamically growing and shrinking resource allocations depending on your needs," he promises.

Perhaps he should call it cloud control(!)

If all this cloud talk sounds nebulous (his pun, not mine) then Shuttleworth promises to reveal the full feature set at the Ubuntu Developer Summit in May in sunny Barcelona.

It's not altogether surprising Shuttleworth is making Ubuntu announcements with a song, a dance and a merry jape: It's easy to sell your operating system in difficult economic times when the price is free. But when your OS runs only on overpriced hardware? Not so much.

That's certainly what Apple is discovering, now that the market has gone sour. Sales of Mac units dropped 6 percent in January, compared to the same period a year ago, with an 11 percent decline in product revenue, according to research from NPD Group. "To some extent, Apple has been struggling in the last few months — there were some issues with overall pricing problems during the holidays and afterward," NPD vice president Stephen Baker said.

Overall, thanks to the recession, the contrast between Ubuntu and Apple couldn't be starker. For Linux, the future looks peachy. For Apple, it's beginning to go pear shaped. If you'll pardon the pun.

Paul Rubens is an IT consultant and journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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