Ubuntu chases after Red Hat with OpenStack and Docker bundles

Canonical is positioning the newest version of Ubuntu server as a cloud building block -- and goes head to head with Red Hat

Even if Canonical hasn't remade the consumer desktop with Ubuntu or made much of a dent with Ubuntu as a phone or tablet OS -- at least, not compared to the way Google has with both Android and Chrome -- there's no denying the presence of Ubuntu as a server.

With the release of Ubuntu 14.04 on Thursday, Canonical is attempting to further define how it stands out from enterprise-centric distributions like Red Hat even as it shares features typically associated with Red Hat.

To do that, Canonical is focusing Ubuntu even more on the features used by the service providers who have taken it to heart, such as Netflix, Comcast, Verizon, and NTT. Two of the key technologies revved in the new Ubuntu release, Docker and OpenStack, are quickly becoming cornerstones for how such companies build their systems.

With OpenStack, Ubuntu is shipping the newest version, code-named Icehouse, which sports a beefier scheduling system, as well as better metering and instrumentation. Many of those features are clearly aimed at the service provider market; the latter, for instance, makes it easier for an organization to keep tabs on service consumption for the sake of internal allocation, billing, or chargebacks.

The new features for Docker, the app containerization technology that took the Linux and VM world by storm last year, are a little more generic but still crucial in the long term -- support for KVM and Xen hypervisors on ARM CPUs, for example. Canonical's also is providing Ubuntu images that are optimized for use in Docker.

Red Hat has done its utmost to position itself as the top OpenStack player, maybe not at the expense of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, but enough to signal it considers each as important as the other. Both Docker and OpenStack are also deeply integrated into the Red Hat platform as a whole: App certification for Docker containers, tight integration for OpenStack with Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, and all-around inside-out support for OpenStack in Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

That said, Canonical isn't trying to take Red Hat's enterprise audience, but rather provide pieces to build clouds with companies that are looking seriously at Ubuntu as an option, thanks to its existing roster of customers.

"We know Red Hat will win a few," said Mark Baker, Ubuntu Server product manager, "but we will win a few too, and part of that is because as enterprises decide to make the move to the cloud, they are also re-evaluating vendor relationships. They look out in the public cloud and in OpenStack and see a lot of Ubuntu. So we're on the short evaluation list, which gives us a lot of opportunity to go and compete."

Baker also noted how Ubuntu's presence as a server generally also gives Ubuntu a leg up in this regard. He claimed Ubuntu is the most popular Linux variant used for Amazon Web Services images.

Canonical's original bet for using Ubuntu to build public clouds was with Eucalyptus, a partnership that waned back in 2011 when OpenStack was swapped in. Eucalyptus has continued to add new features over the last couple of years, but it's lost major ground despite its interoperability with AWS (a feature considered more a baseline standard than a bonus these days), and it hasn't enjoyed the kind of deep integration with a major OS platform that OpenStack has with Red Hat and now Ubuntu.

Canonical has done other work to keep Ubuntu a cutting-edge server distribution, such as adding the next-generation Nginx Web server as part of its standard bundle of included software. Working with Docker and OpenStack going forward is a good strategy to avoid irrelevance, although the audience it plans to court with Ubuntu can be fickle, and Red Hat's shown it's more than willing to go all-in with the kind of management and orchestration tools that could make Red Hat the more appealing choice.

This story, "Ubuntu chases after Red Hat with OpenStack and Docker bundles," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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