Ubuntu 15.04 combines OpenStack and LXD hypervisor in one package

Canonical's new Linux distribution unveils its LXD container runtime, which offers the best features of both containers and VMs

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Later this week Canonical will debut a new rev of Ubuntu that features both the latest version of OpenStack and Canonical's new "container hypervisor," LXD.

Canonical -- like other companies that offer both OpenStack and containers in the same package -- is responding to the demand for both technologies. And like some of those other companies, Canonical is offering its own take on the way containers can and should work.

Canonical's LXD container runtime environment falls somewhere between a Docker container (lightweight, fast launching) and a full VM (a complete set of virtualized machine resources), making it possible for a single physical host to run many more LXD containers than it could VMs. In addition, the applications within those containers can run without the overhead needed for virtualization. Live migration of containers -- where running applications in a container can be moved between hosts -- is also supported in the current release.

The other major offering in Ubuntu 15.04 is OpenStack Kilo; Canonical claims its distribution is the first to offer production-ready Kilo to the public. Much of what's new in Kilo revolves around improvements to virtual networking, memory management, and other common pain points.

What's likely to draw the most attention for Ubuntu is the close integration between OpenStack Nova and LXD, which enables container workloads to be deployed in and managed on OpenStack using LXD, rather than KVM. Canonical likely wants LXD and OpenStack to be complementary, not exclusive, because of the customer profile for Ubuntu's OpenStack distribution: Telecoms and other big data customers provide a good deal of the direction and influence.

According to Mark Baker, product manager for OpenStack in Ubuntu, "LXD support in OpenStack means big data [e.g., Hadoop] specialists can now use OpenStack APIs for provisioning, and get bare metal performance for their analytics."

In the time since LXD was first announced, many other products have emerged that also promise radical new takes on containerization. CoreOS promoted its own container format; Joyent unveiled a container host that ditched VMs and ran containers on bare metal; and Red Hat unveiled its own ecosystem for running enterprise containers at scale.

Apart from the fact that they're all container-oriented, these products take approaches that are more divergent than similar -- and that's the idea. There's unlikely to be a one-size-fits-everybody solution, but the solution that fits the most bills is likely to rise to the top.

LXD's ideas are intriguing, and Ubuntu's status as the go-to distribution for use with OpenStack ought to provide the container runtime plenty of opportunities for a real-world shakedown. The real proof of LXD's value, though, will be whether it can make strides outside of Ubuntu and OpenStack, as part of the general ecosystem of container technologies.

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