Time to consider Ubuntu for your cloud needs?

Ubuntu's cloud traction grows, but customers must consider issues of managing heterogeneous Linux environments

Reports of Dell's decision to deliver Ubuntu-powered cloud infrastructure should motivate you to evaluate Ubuntu as an alternative to Red Hat in the cloud.

Red Hat still stuck in cloud positioning mode

Just two months ago, I wrote about challenges with Red Hat's Cloud strategy as being focused on retaining existing customers, not attracting new ones. Red Hat has since tried to paint itself as the leader for cloud software, singling out EMC VMware as its primary competitor. However, it's important to note that the new positioning doesn't address the barrier to entry I noted in my previous post.

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InfoWorld blogger David Linthicum highlights an issue that Red Hat and other software vendors are facing as they consider cloud computing offerings and price points. He writes, "For instance, if you're selling cloud storage at 15 cents per gigabyte per month, but your customers end up spending $1 per gigabyte per month for your storage box offering, how do you suspect your customers to react?"

Linthicum's example is focused on storage, but it equally applies to the per-hour cost of running an operating system, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), on a public cloud versus in your data center. Cloud pricing encourages customers to price-check the yearly cost of a traditional software license or subscription versus the pay-per-usage cloud price for the equivalent software. That could cause existing customers at Red Hat to shift to the less-profitable cloud version.

Ubuntu's cloud growth

Stemming from Canonical's relatively modest customer base, especially outside of cloud deployments, the vendor behind Ubuntu doesn't have to worry about existing customers doing a similar price comparison between the pay-per-usage cloud approach and traditional support subscriptions. This is definitely an advantage for Canonical over Red Hat.

Ubuntu's usage on Amazon EC2 and Canonical's claim of 12,000 downloads of the Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud are further evidence of Ubuntu as a viable alternative to Red Hat in the cloud Linux and virtualization arena.

Additionally, Canonical looks to have scored a coup, with Dell selecting Ubuntu as the operating system and virtualization infrastructure for Dell's forthcoming cloud servers. As The Register's Gavin Clarke reports, these servers come out of Dell's Data Center Solutions Group, which has servers that power online properties such as Microsoft's Bing and Salesforce.com.

Why Dell chose to work with Canonical, and not Microsoft or Red Hat, on these servers is a moot point. Dell may, in fact, have similar plans with Microsoft or even with Red Hat. What's important is the vote of confidence in Ubuntu and Canonical.

It's true that Dell's history of supporting Linux is less than stellar. However, it's important to note that the PC and server markets are very different. Linux's tiny share on PCs versus its large share on servers means that Dell can't ignore the 30 percent of the server market seeking Linux solutions.

Heterogeneous data center and cloud environments

Selecting Ubuntu for cloud deployments while using Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Novell Suse Linux Enterprise for traditional data center workloads does introduce yet another environment to support. For some, the added complexity of supporting yet one more Linux environment means that Red Hat and Novell have an opportunity to close the gap to Ubuntu in cloud deployments. For others, using Ubuntu in cloud deployments, regardless of their data center Linux selection, is both a competitive differentiator and a negotiation tactic against Red Hat or Novell in the data center.

Where does your company land on this spectrum?

Follow me on Twitter at SavioRodrigues. I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions."

This article, "Time to consider Ubuntu for your cloud needs?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Rodrigues et al.'s Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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