Enterprise Linux Log

Nov 20 2007   10:27AM GMT

Ubuntu server momentum builds toward ‘critical mass’

ITKE ITKE Profile: ITKE

At CIO.com today, Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth gives a nice year-ending top ten list on a topic he’s surely familiar with on the most intimate of levels: Ubuntu.

More specifically, Shuttleworth talks about the Top Ten Reasons Why Ubuntu Is Best for Enterprise Use. In the list Shuttleworth runs down the usual laundry list of pro-Linux items, including flexibility, cost, support chops and its strong security track record; and addressed a few new ones as well like application selection. “There are more than 20,000 packages immediately available to Ubuntu users. These include the largest selection of open-source tools and a growing list of proprietary applications,” he said.

Normally, a CEO waxing positively about his own product is nothing new, but this year has been a roller coaster ride for Ubuntu and I can’t help but think this column is a harbinger of things to come for the OS.

First, there were two substantial releases for Ubuntu this year. In April Feisty Fawn (7.04) launched, and Canonical was again beating the server drum full-force to get users to notice that this free little distro had matured over the past two years. Deploying it on the server was now an option said Jane Silber, Canonical’s director of operations. “On the server side, we have increased support for virtualization, and Ubuntu now supports a number of virtualization technologies. We have been working with VMware on some performance testing with Ubuntu as a guest operating system and as the host OS. We have seen very good performance numbers there. We also have Xen in the universe repository, and we’ve added [Kernel-based Virtual Machine] support,” she said.

I had already written about this a few times over the past year and I was looking for something beyond what Canonical was already saying about what was being put into Ubuntu’s code.

We go that response in May, and it was a small landslide victory for Canonical. In a joint statement released May 3, Dell Inc.. and Canonical announced that Dell would offer laptops and desktop computers pre-installed with Ubuntu Linux 7.04. Dell CEO Michael Dell acquired a Precision M90 mobile workstation and loaded it with Ubuntu 7.04 and a host of open source applications just to cap the whole announcement off. At the time, Raven Zachary, a senior analyst with New York-based 451 Group, said the news also meant users could expect an Ubuntu server offering from Dell in the near future. “I think you will find Dell, over time, also offering Ubuntu across its server product line as Ubuntu grows in popularity in the data center,” he said.

Nice segue, Raven, because what happened next was right up that alley. During a qucik call with Canonical’s marketing director Gerry Carr in August, he and I started talking about hardware vendors and which among them might be ideal candidates for pre-installed Ubuntu. “[Pre-installed Ubuntu on the server] is something we would like to do, and we’ve made no secret about it,” Carr said. “Customers have asked for this, and if people want to see Ubuntu pre-installed on Dell servers, then they should go to [Dell] IdeaStorm and continue to ask for it.” The Dell/Ubuntu program was expanded to encompass Europe in August, and observers at the time said it was yet another indicator of Ubuntu’s building momentum.

Carr said that while the deal will “hopefully be with Dell,” Canonical is also considering server vendors other than Dell, and at a later date the company will reveal the results of those talks. “This doesn’t mean a deal is imminent, but those who want and require Ubuntu on the server will have something available reasonably soon,” he said.

Which leads us to the present. Last week, at Linux-Watch.com, Rick Becker, Dell Product Group’s vice president of applications, said Dell is currently in the process of certifying Ubuntu for all its server lines. “But we are still several months away from announcing a certification. I’d say it’ll be announced in Q1 next year,” he said.

The Ubuntu firehose is now open, but there are still a few obstacles to address before the prerequisite “touchdown” articles are written (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?) How big is the demand, you ask? Dell IdeaStorm received more than 130,000 requests for pre-installed desktop Ubuntu in early 2007, but that number is a pin drop compared to the number of Red Hat and Novell instances in the enterprise today. And that number pales in comparison to the number of Microsoft Windows deployments worldwide. There’s also the recently raised concerns about Ubuntu’s documentation to address as well.

Regardless, the momentum is building around Ubuntu on both the desktop and the server. Whether or not it reaches critical mass is something we’ll have to dig into now, won’t we?

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