Canonical Voices

Posts tagged with 'linux'

Steve George

Someone recently remarked to me that you can think of hardware as software that’s developed really slowly. While the software space has been going wild over cloud computing it’s been pretty quiet on the hardware side of the equation. But, that’s going to change as we see a new class of server hardware that helps businesses take advantage of the power and density savings possible through new CPU architectures and software stacks.

As an illustration IDC reported on the server market recently and it shows the start of the next wave of change. As you’d expect the general server market is pretty poor, growing at just 2.7%. But, blade servers which are commonly used for Web workloads is growing at 7%. Finally, the hyperdense form-factor is growing at 29% – which is an astounding amount.

In some ways the drivers for this change are just the continuation of a long-running story where everything is (has?) moved into a Web infrastructure set-up which enables the horizontal scaling of services. Implicitly this favours buying a lot of cheaper systems and building in redundancy at the software level. But the Cloud accelerates this trend further since it’s stateless and you no longer care about the specifics of the hardware layer in the same way.

The challenge for infrastructure managers is that continually adding more servers means you’re incurring ongoing costs for electricity, space and management. So anything that can drive better performance per watt in a denser arrangement is interesting. As you can see from the diagram below the expected growth in this space is really significant.

At a CPU architecture level ARM chips have been getting more powerful and this year they’re going to enter into the mix for servers. The first reason for this is that they’re relatively low-power which means lower running costs. Since they’re low power they also give off less heat so another advantage is they can be put into a ‘hyperdense’ arrangement that also saves money in terms of space. You’ll see systems this year from both Dell and HP (see Moonshot). It’s pretty astounding to think that the same chip that’s powering your phone could be powering Facebook!

If we’re truly going to get the benefit from the new hyperdense form-factor then the software layer will also need to reflect the capabilities of these systems. So for Ubuntu we’re continuing our work on ARM and recently announced the availability of 12.04 LTS as an ARM server – the first commercial Linux to come to the platform. We’re also exploring how these hardware systems unique strengths are expressed and how this impacts the software stack. For example if you’ve got a few hundred systems in a half-rack then the problem of managing those systems is far more significant – so service orchestration (such as Juju) is really critical. It’s exciting times in this space and a really interesting project.

If you’re interested in a quick summary of ARM server check out this Prezi by Victor Palau.


Tagged: arm chips, enterprise-it

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Steve George

Raspberry Pi is a project to spark exploration, innovation and to create a new generation of programmers by putting a computer into the hands of every British child. That was the passionate vision presented by David Braben of Frontier Development at Develop in a talked labelled “Giving something back”. There are some interesting parallels with the vision One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) had. The radical difference is that with the effects of Moores Law since the OLPC project the Raspberry Pi vision is for a device that costs 15 GBP – that makes it realistic to put one into the hands of every child in the UK!

They showed an alpha last year which got lots of attention – watch it and then we’ll continue:

Raspberry Pi: Elite writer David Braben’s 15 computer

The starting point for this endeavour is that children aren’t excited by Computer Science in the UK any more and that this has meant a radical drop in the number of University applications. There’s a shortage of precise figures, said David, but it could be as much as a 51% drop since the mid-90’s. He cites a lot of reasons for this, from changes in life-style, curriculum and the mass-media. His conclusion is that a key shortage is a computing environment for kids that encourages programming – a BBC B for a newer generation. The team aims to create a small (phone sized) computer, powered by an ARM chip, which you can plug a TV/keyboard into and a software load with educational software on it. The long-term mission being to provide these free to groups of children with appropriate content, along with management capabilities for teachers.

The bottom line for me is that encouraging experimentation, exploration and creation is a good thing in and of itself. If you want to create programmers they have to start along the journey of realising that you can create as well as consume in the digital world. When I was in school computers were all the rage from an educational perspective and certainly while we mostly played games we also created small programs. Like many others I spent long hours typing out program listings that came in magazines, and learnt rudimentary concepts in BASIC. While I personally took an indirect path into computers I do think these experiences were formative in accepting what was possible and sparking an inherent interest.

Raspberry Pi running Ubuntu

Creating a complete computing environment for children and teachers is a hugely ambitious goal. You have to solve hardware, software, content and distribution problems along the way. At the moment the Raspberry Pi team is focusing on the hardware, with an initial developer version due this year. I see the software stack as being a critical portion – you’ll be glad to know that Ubuntu is the OS! It has to be said that although I got into computing with BASIC and a manual I don’t think that’s going to cut it for kids these days: it certainly wouldn’t have cut it for me if there’d been anything like the Net! Moreover, I think we have to accept that the Web is the platform and that the elements of sharing, socialising and interacting are all part of what makes up computing now. So any software stack has to look forward and encompass new elements even when trying to be simple. That said I think the software and languages we have today are a lot stronger and more compelling: whether that’s languages like Python or some of the OLPC environment! Of course, it’s easy for a technical audience to focus on the technology stack but this changes all the time, what’s more important is the content and education contacts.

Clearly, the content will need to address childrens needs at different ages, and working with the education sector so that it fits their needs and understanding is going to be very important. David noted that managing groups of machines was a key need for educators who aren’t technicians. I was struck by the passion and willingness to get involved throughout the room – if that passion can be harnessed it will hold the project in good stead. I’ve love to see Raspberry Pi develop into a full charity with funding from the industry and efforts to work with the education sector.

If you’re like to find out more about Raspberry Pi, and perhaps sign-up for one of their dev boards, then see their site. What do you think about this initiative and on a more general level how can we help get kids involved in experimenting with technology?


Tagged: Free Software, Linux, Ubuntu

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Steve George

We added two classic games, Darwinia and Uplink, to the Ubuntu Software Center this week. It’s been a great journey working with the Introversion team to bring this software to Ubuntu and it’s great to see this result!

Hacking game Uplink

I first spoke to Mark Morris, Introversion MD, last summer explaining the concepts around the Software Center and our intent to bring a wider range of applications to Ubuntu users. It was great to explore how this system would work for commercial developers and Mark gave us great perspective on the mechanics of software publishing in the gaming industry.

We used the Introversion example internally when we were working through many of the complexities of the commercial system. And I staid in touch with Mark keeping him up to date on our progress and reflecting on his commentary.

As an Indie developer Introversion has to focus on the future, particularly their current project Subversion. So it was by no means a given that they’d be willing to take on the additional attention cost and effort of a new publishing platform. Sowe were really happy when he agreed to publish Darwinia and Uplink through our platform. And they were fully committed as we worked through putting their software into Ubuntu Software Center.

Both Darwinia and Uplink are great titles that show the quality and range of commercial games and applications that are available for Ubuntu. I hope you support them by buying and enjoying them!


Tagged: Linux, Ubuntu

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Steve George

Why wasn’t Google invented in the UK? Where are all the great British software start-ups? Why isn’t there more Open Source in the UK?

That last question may not have come up in the Chancellors budget speech, but it should have. This was my central argument to The Register this week –  to move from an economy whose value is “the loan was created in Britain”, to one where it’s “invented, designed and built in Britain” then we need to unleash innovation through Open Source.

You might think it a bit self-serving for me to be pushing Open Source as the answer to the UK’s ills. In fact, as I far too passionately made my points to Lucy Sherriff, it crossed my mind that I could fully conform to my own stereotype of “special pleading corporate PR” by next asking for special tax breaks and complaining about unspecified (but nonetheless burdensome) “red-tape”! Nonetheless, I believe that technology and Open Source have to be key elements in the rebalancing of the UK’s economy.

First, lets put back into the box the idea that the UK cannot do technology, and that we should just leave it to Silicon Valley. The funny thing is that when you pull up the covers on successful valley technology companies you’ll find plenty of Brits. That shouldn’t be a surprise, the education system in the UK is strong, we have a fantastic tradition in science and engineering, and the language/culture compatibility helps. Finally, it completely ignores the evidence of the technology companies we do have, from successful start-ups such as Last.fm through to majors like ARM.

Perhaps it’s that cultural contrarianism that makes us unable to dwell on the positive or accentuate the good. A national character of, you say “tomato”, I say “no, it’s a squashed, bruised, fruit that tastes anaemic and who knows the long-term effects of the pesticides”. So, lets not waste any more bits on this – the UK has great technology capabilities and we should celebrate them!

So why is Open Source an important element in creating an environment that can create success for our technologists and economy? Because, it’s a leveller and a remover of locked-in de-facto networks. Open source releases innovation and provides ways for companies of all sizes to compete, bringing greater competition and delivering more value to everyone.

First, government wants to encourage start-ups and small business. There’s lots of policy options, but a big (perhaps the biggest) lever is government procurement. Our tax money should be used to buy great value technology, provided by local companies if at all possible. Governments know this, but they’re often concerned that small suppliers will fail – it’s a real concern because it happens. Mandating that the technology be Open Source removes that concern. That way if the supplier fails it can be supported and maintained by an alternative supplier. And, in the long-run you create a competitive national set of technology companies that will be employing locally and providing services far more efficiently than a small number of multi-national conglomerates (yes, looking at you Oracle).

Second, Open Source enables a local (ie national) supplier ecosystem to be created. Fundamentally, if our technology companies just resell proprietary software that’s developed by the large multinationals they will lack the skills to innovate and create on their own. Open Source is customisable and enables the suppliers to develop the same skills that will be needed to create products. There’s no black-boxes in Open Source, so if someone spots an opportunity or a gap they can understand it and innovate from there.

Third, Open Source provides more flexible and capable systems for end-users. My biggest fear about proprietary software is that it destroys enquiry in our children and students – it’s a curiosity trap. How many of the stories about great inventors (whether software or not) start with them taking apart everything they could get their hands on, from clocks to cars. They had a spirit of enquiry, a curiosity to understand and then improve.

In this era Open Source is the biggest library of software on the planet. In any domain, sphere or software idea there’s an Open Source project and some of the most skilled developers on the planet out there working on it. And everyone can read, understand and enquire – how short a step is it for the imagination to be fed and the idea of improving to occur? It’s terrible to anaesthetise our children and students with the idea that they shouldn’t look under the hood or understand what’s happening. That’s exactly what proprietary software does. And we risk missing the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates because of it.

So really George (Osbourne in this case), stop throwing tax dollars at bribing multi-national banks to keep taking space in Canary Wharf. Unleash the UK into the forefront of the global technology revolution by adopting an industrial policy that develops technology as a key area, and for goodness sake make Open Source part of that mix. You know I’m right!


Tagged: Canonical, innovation, Linux, Ubuntu

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Steve George

To go with the Software Business Development role we also opened up an Ubuntu Developer Relations Advocate job as the two areas are closely related. Business Development is focused on working with developers at a business level, fundamentally creating a revenue-generating relationship.  Developer relations is focused on working with developers at a technical level, providing resources, assistance and community.  Both roles could be speaking to the same people in a small developer shop, but the focus of the conversation is different and we need both to help developers be successful.

Fundamentally, the objective of developer relations is to provide a focus for evangelising the platform and assisting developers as they develop software for Ubuntu. One thing to clarify is that the type of development we mean here is ‘developing applications that run on Ubuntu‘, with the desired outcome being that we increase the range of applications available to Ubuntu users. So this is different to a lot of our other community relations work which is aimed at contributors to Ubuntu. Another point is that our focus is on commercial software developers since we believe that it’s important to create a sustainable ecosystem around the platform: that doesn’t exclude FOSS since Open Source can be commercial – although being realistic I expect that most of the commercial software will be proprietary.

Developer relations is a mixed role, it’s partially to evangelise the platform and attract developers, and partially assisting developers by giving them resources and a community. I group the responsibilities into three areas – attracting, enabling and enthusing. By attracting we mean communicating and showing how great the Ubuntu platform is for developers. This covers the Ubuntu distribution but also developer enabled technologies such as Unity, UbuntuOne and distribution through the Software Center. To enable developers we need to provide resources they can use to develop on Ubuntu explaining the tools and technologies that are part of the platform and how to use them.  A key difference between Ubuntu and other platforms is that we aim to be participatory and transparent. So the most important element of ‘enabling’ is that we want to create a Developer Community: we’re focusing our attentions on developer.ubuntu.com which you can think of as the equivalent to IBM’s Developer Works or Apple’s Developer Center. This is a real connector role so a key part will be working with the wider world, and coordinating internal Canonical teams and exciting everyone so that we’re all working together to the common goal.

Finally, there’s lots of discussion whether Developer Relations should sit within an engineering department or within a marketing organisation, which depends on your objectives. In our case the focus is increasing the range of software that is available on Ubuntu which is a long-range business development strategy aimed at strengthening the platform, so we’ve chosen to put Developer Relations within that team so we can have the best connections. Either way at heart it’s a technical role that is all about communications by helping developers get the most from the platform – being their advocate.

We know the objective and the strategy, how to drive it forward is open territory that will need leadership, energy and tenacity. If you have experience in Developer Relations and some of the thoughts above chime with your own ideas then hop across to the Ubuntu site where you can read the job description and apply!


Tagged: Canonical, developers, Linux, Ubuntu

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Steve George

Canonical is looking for a software business development consultant focusing on helping consumer third-party developers (ISV’s) and content providers bring their products to Ubuntu.  It deserves a bit of background and an explanation of why this is important for Ubuntu.

Let me start with a slight digression: I went skiing over the holidays but forgot my GPS, it was a bit annoying as I like to keep a record of where I’ve skied off-piste.  Luckily, I had my phone so I simply purchased, downloaded (Over-The-Air) and installed a GPS app.  If you stop for a second, this is a pretty amazing capability. Even a few years ago the idea of using my phone in this way wouldn’t have been in the realms of possibility – but increasingly every device we have is multi-functional and extended by third-party software capabilities. In fact, any platform that doesn’t have this flexibility is at a severe disadvantage.

If you’re a software device manufacturer or consumer operating system vendor it’s no longer sufficient to scope your capabilities to driving the hardware and providing the core experiences. Users expect their devices to be ubiquitous, connected and social which means that platforms need to be personal and flexible to their needs. So every consumer device OS needs to be a (for want of a better label) “software platform” that can be used to create those experiences along with an active developer ecosystem creating them. It’s this set of consumer expectations that drives Android and iPhone to put so much pressure on ‘apps’ and even in contexts like the desktop this is happening (ie Mac App Store).  But it doesn’t end there, applications are only half the story, content (whether created or consumed) is an integral part of the desired user experience.

To provide such a range of experiences is impossible for any single vendor, so the consumer platforms have responded by creating ecosystems of relationships that build the applications, media and content that users want. Both in terms of user needs and the distribution mechanisms that these software platform provide it’s a massive opportunity for software developers. It’s also an opportunity for media and online organisations that mediate and distribute content experiences, with all the challenges that this involves.

This is why as Ubuntu expands as a consumer platform we need to build the range of software and content experiences for our users.  Each month we ship on a larger range of devices (desktops, laptops and mobile devices), which reach a wider set of consumer users (both in experience and geography) so the overall needs of our users are broadening and deepening. Ubuntu users want the latest games (can anyone say Angry Birds), entertainment (e.g Boxee) and productivity applications.  The Ubuntu Software Center creates a system so that third-party developers can reach Ubuntu users, distribute their software and monetise through the Ubuntu playment platform.

As I said earlier, software and content are somewhat bound together from a user perspective: is Spotify software or content for example? So from an Ubuntu user perspective we also need to think about each media and content experience and work with partners to deliver those to them.  We’ve already done lots of work with UbuntuOne and music, but there’s all sorts of additional media experiences that need development.

So our long-term objective is to create a large ecosystem of third-party software applications for Ubuntu consumers which are distributed and sold through the platform. In addition, we are seeking to work with third-party content providers such as music, movie and e-book vendors to deliver the range of content that consumer users expect. I’m excited about this area for Ubuntu and for our partners so today we’ve created a new software business development role: if it’s something that excites you and you have the right experiences I’d encourage you to apply.


Tagged: business development, Canonical, jobs, Linux, sales, Ubuntu

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Steve George

When I started using Linux in the mid 90′s almost all of the developers were part-time, even Linus Torvalds had another job and did kernel development part time. These days many of the core Linux projects (from the kernel through to Firefox) have full-time paid developers. Consequently, Open Source has been able to progress more in the last 10 years than the previous 20 years of development.

However, there’s still no independent software industry around the platform: I mean by this development shops that create application software for Linux. This is a problem. On the developer side it means we often lose programmers to other platforms as they move across to a space where they can earn a living. On the user side it prevents a range of users from using Linux because the range of software isn’t there to suit their needs. Both sides of this equation need to be solved for Linux to become a mainstream desktop platform. It’s these long terms problems that we’re trying to impact through the software center and the related threads.

If you look at other platforms, such as Mac, you see there’s a strong hobbyist or casual developer group who are very influential.  This group has often made the most exciting, compelling and breakthrough applications and utilities.  When the Mac desktop wasn’t cool (ie OS 9) this group kept the platform alive by creating great new software for users.  It’s also this type of developer who was the first to adopt the ipod/iOS application space and who has been so important advocating the platform. These developers create software because they love doing so, and they get a positive kick out of the direct and indirect appreciation from users.

Free Software developers often cite the community aspect of being in the open as a driver for working on software.  But there’s fewer ways for a user to show direct appreciation for the work. So we’ve been thinking about adding the ability for Ubuntu users to donate to free software applications that they love. It will provide a way for users to show their appreciation, and this positive feed-back will encourage the developer to keep cranking out great software.  My expectation is that the value of donations will be in users showing their love and that it will provide for the odd “free beer”.

There have been previous ideas and blueprints around donations in Ubuntu, so at UDS we discussed adding this feature to Software Center.

From a user perspective the experience will be that they’ll switch on donations and charge their account.  They’ll then be able to donate to individual applications within the software center.  It should be a straightforward user-experience but the variety of requirements to fulfill this properly is complex. There’s core problems like storing money within an account, how you process transactions and what the user can see within Software Center – I’m sure they’d like to see what they’ve donated to for example.

On the developer side of the equation the experience should be that a software project registers for donations and provides financial details. Then when some set of donations is received it’s paid out to their account. The core part of the discussion at UDS was around how you identify the right person to give the donations to.  This a difficult problem. The proposal for the initial release is that we’ll switch on donations for software which has a foundation and has the legal structures to receive donations.

It’s a really exciting idea and one I believe will make a difference to encouraging free software. If you’d like to give feedback or track development add yourself to the blueprint.


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Steve George

I hope you didn’t miss the fantastic news that Dell has expanded the PowerEdge servers that are certified for Ubuntu Server Edition. We’ve also worked with them to port and package OpenManage 6.3 to Ubuntu which is important for anyone who uses this systems management framework.

Expanding the range of certified hardware is an ongoing process and it’s worth considering why it’s important. When we started Ubuntu Server Edition one of the most significant frustrations for Debian/Ubuntu based sysadmins was hardware compatibility. While a server would “mostly” work there would be small but significant issues that prevented sysadmins being able to depend on them. Consequently, we’ve worked with the server manufacturers to expand their certifications to cover Ubuntu. By working together we’re able to test and validate the whole system, ensuring a higher level of testing.

Using certified Dell hardware with Ubuntu Server means you have the assurance that everything will work together without a hitch. Second, if you do have a hardware issue and contact Dell they won’t tell you to remove Ubuntu and put a “certified OS” on the hardware to verify the problem. Finally, if you’ve purchased Ubuntu Advantage from Canonical it means that we can resolve any technical issue in conjunction with Dell.

Expanding the pool of certified hardware is something that every Ubuntu server user can encourage. The next time you’re purchasing a server for use with Ubuntu consider if you can do the following:

a. Buy hardware which is certified

Certifying hardware costs the OEM and Canonical significant amounts of money. So by buying certified hardware you incentivise the OEM to continue certifying Ubuntu. Clearly an OEM will expand the OS support for the operating systems that sell more hardware.

b. Tell your vendor you’ll be using Ubuntu
It’s common amongst Linux users to buy the hardware without an OS and then to load it themselves. The problem is that the OEM doesn’t know the OS you care about: and it’s even worse if you buy a server with Windows on it because it’s on a special offer.

So it’s important to inform your vendor that you’ll be using Ubuntu on the systems even if you’re buying it bare.

c. Ask your vendor to certify Ubuntu
If you have an account manager and buy servers on a regular basis then ask them to request expanding certification. Every company listens to what the sales people tell them.

Separately, it’s worth knowing that if you purchase Ubuntu Advantage and are using it with certified hardware then Canonical can provide a higher level of care as we can work with the OEM if there are any issues over drivers and because we have access to the hardware. You can see everything that’s certified from Dell on the Ubuntu certified list.

Image credit: John Seb


Tagged: Linux, Ubuntu

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Steve George

I participated in a panel on the “Disruptive Effects of Open Source” at the Future World Symposium which discussed how OSS is impacting the software world, the degree of that change and the limitations.

The conference was held by the NMI whose charter is to represent and usher the interests of the electronics industry in the UK. It may not be something you think about on a daily basis but the UK has a pretty successful electronics sector with companies like ARM, Freescale, Imagination and others. Now that our political masters have got over their finance kick perhaps they’ll focus more attention on encouraging these technology sectors!

Anyway, with a electronics industry audience I was concerned to make my comments interesting and relevant. As became clear from some of the other presentations electronics companies face incredible opportunities where the number of devices and connectivity options between them are proliferating. However, there are also significant challenges as sectors converge with each other, and international competition hots up.

Glyn Moody chaired the discussion and my initial comments were to explain that Open Source is not a business model. Rather, it is a development and licensing model which brings many impacts and there are a variety of permutations for why you might use OSS or build a product using OSS. For example, in some cases organisations collaborate through OSS because there’s no value in differentiation, a “shared investment” model: a good example is Web 2.0 companies who collaborate to improve their infrastructure software. Another area is where you want to speed up the velocity of innovation. The value of  OSS is that it can create a community of contributors and advocates: a good example is the web browser where Firefox has driven significant direct and spin-off innovation.

I wanted to make sure that the audience was clear that open software is not inimitable with proprietary or mixed solutions. Since I was addressing an audience that might not know Open Source well, and whose livelihoods depend on Intellectual Property (IP) I wanted to make sure that they were clear that OSS values this just as much. Furthermore, that OSS should be a key part of any technology companies strategy as it’s a leveller of competition.

We then talked about the various rights and responsibilities that working with OSS confers, the value and opportunities around communities. I sometimes feel that in those circumstances it can all seem too much if you go from the idea of a closed ecosystem immediately to the idea of developers being able to download any piece of code from the Internet and use it. So I focused my comments on the value of vendors acting as mediators between the open-ended nature of Open Source projects and the more controlled world of a procurement policy. I’m certainly not unbiased here, but a vendor can provide lots of value by mediating this world, helping customers to navigate it, providing legal and technical support – along with the protections and reassurance that companies like to have. I wanted to make sure the audience was clear that it doesn’t have to be the “wild west” when using OSS.

In the final section the questions explored the range, limitations and future directions for Open Source. Since we were getting close to lunch I wanted to provoke a reaction. My main statement was that eventually there will be a major Open Source solution and vendor in every technology segment. The direction of Linux over the previous ten years shows the manner in which OSS expands across all niches and we can see the impact it’s had in other segments such as databases and today we see it in mobile phones. And that in any segment where there is a sufficiently wide interest in sharing the cost of development, increasing the speed of innovation through a community or rebooting the competition then OSS would eventually take place. Consequently,  I suggested that if there wasn’t an OSS competitor then a company should consider getting first mover advantage before their competitors do

I thought I’d come up with a controversial answer to the question and was quite surprised there wasn’t a strong reaction from the audience. Perhaps they considered me too tainted as an OSS vendor.

So there you go, I managed to learn something about the electronics industry and just about avoided telling them that they should Open Source everything immediately! I’m sure they’ll invite me again next year.


Tagged: Linux, Ubuntu

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Steve George

The new release of Landscape in time for the Ubuntu 10.04 LTS release attracted some nice articles in the Linux press. The majority of the features this time around are designed to help enterprise Ubuntu users who are managing a large number of systems. If you have hundreds of servers in your enterprise then you need to be able to see the “Landscape of your deployment” and react to issues quickly. There’s more detail on the main features in my previous Landscape post.

First up is Sean Michael Kerner at Linux Planet who did a nice write-up titled Canonical Landscape 1.5 Extends Ubuntu Linux Management for Enterprises on the release.  He pays particular attention to the enterprise authentication and the LTS upgrades with a nice quote from Ken Drachnik:

“We find that most enterprises are using LTS’s, so as part of this release, we wanted to have the automated ability to just click a button and say ‘Yes, upgrade me’ and then Landscape would automatically download the packages and do the upgrade”

Over at The Register, Timothy Prickett Morgan focuses talks about the Cloud aspects of the new release in his article Canonical updates Landscape manager. With UEC a key part of our server product and the work we’re doing on Amazon EC2 there’s lots of interesting things that Landscape can do to help users manage Ubuntu in these environments.

Finally, Joe Panettieri at WorksWithU discusses Landscape 1.5: The Implications for Ubuntu Customers and Partners where he summarises the key elements of the release and considers how the Amazon EC2 management might be of interest to partners.   He specifically asks for examples of how Landscape is being successful with corporate customers. And as if by magic we can point him at this case study by PlusServer AG which we just put up, and it’s definitely worth a read!


Tagged: Canonical, landscape, Linux, Ubuntu

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Steve George

We released a new version of Landscape our management service for Ubuntu last week. There’s a slew of new features including server templates, simple upgrades and enterprise authentication support.  Whether you’re managing a few systems or as many as Google the new features make system administration simpler!

Landscape’s objective is to make managing and monitoring hundreds of Ubuntu systems as easy as looking after one. Whether you’re managing some Ubuntu desktops, or looking after a Web server farm Landscape lowers the complexity of administering those systems: no-one wants to apply patches to hundreds of machines manually! For IT managers this means that Landscape makes system administrators more effective and efficient. Landscape also ensures that deployed Ubuntu systems are secure with maintenance patches and upgrades.

Landscape is provided as a software service so every six months Canonical releases a new version that is available to all subscribers. There’s also an on-site version available to customers that have security policies or regulations that prevent them using a SaaS management platform. In line with Ubuntu 10.04 the main features of the new version are:

Package profiles
Many sites have sets of servers that do similar jobs, for example “web serving“. Ideally you want those machines to have the same set-up reducing management overhead.

The ability to create templates of the packages installed on a particular system and then apply those to different machines makes it easy to replicate a standard install. It also ensures that you maintain consistent profiles across your systems as time goes by. Finally, if you need to re-provision or expand resources you can use profiles to ensure it’s a repeatable process. Package Profiles is really great for managing configurations.

Release upgrades
If you’re managing more that a handful of Ubuntu systems then doing upgrades is going to take a lot of time. Whether that’s every six months in time with the standard releases, or every two years for the LTS releases, it’s a significant commitment. To reduce that overhead you can now do upgrades between releases using Landscape.

Upgrades between releases are always complex so this doesn’t remove the need for backups and careful attention. Nonetheless, if you’ve used Package Profiles, it will be easier to test an upgrade on a test system and then when you’re happy apply it to all the deployed systems using the same package profile. Rather than having to access every machine and do the process by hand you can upgrade a group at a time.

Enterprise authentication
Enterprises commonly have a corporate standard for authentication such as LDAP or on a Microsoft Windows network Active Directory. The new version of LDS connects to these systems authenticating administrators from the existing authentication system. This ensures that customers can simplify their authentication set-up and enforce authorisation from a single corporate directory.

There’s more information in the press release and you can read more about it in the Canonical blog post or try it out with a free trial.


Tagged: Canonical, landscape, Linux, Ubuntu

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Steve George

What software will Canonical provide support for? That’s probably one of the questions you were asking if you read my previous post about commercial service subscriptions and bug resolution. Or perhaps not, but it’s a rhetorical device that suits me for this post!

Generally speaking for an application to be supported as part of a service subscription it has to be within the Main repository. This is because applications within the Main repository receive public maintenance (bug fixes and security updates) for the life-cycle of the release.

In order for an application to move into Main it goes through a stringent security and quality assurance assessment. As part of this review Canonical’s engineers inspect the code and ensure that they are able to maintain it. Consequently, those engineers also provide bug-fixes and maintenance for Canonical customers.

I find it interesting that generally the ability to maintain and fix code is one type of developer skill-set, while writing new features is a different one. Colin Watson recently told me that an early manager had told him that there are two types of developers in the world, those that create things and those that finish them off. Intuitively that feels right to me and by definition a distribution is focused on the latter where integration, polish and quality assurance rule.

The second issue is how do you know which software is covered within the Ubuntu service that you subscribed to? Some Linux distributions deal with this by covering all the software that they physically ship to customers. However, in Ubuntu’s case most users receive the software electronically so this doesn’t work. Second, the Main archive and seeds are relatively fixed and don’t map well to a subscription service for a particular target market. Essentially this means it’s hard to reflect the services within the technology.

Consequently, when a customer purchases a particular service subscription they receive a Service Description. This describes the scope of support, the bug-fixing coverage, the legal indemnification, the software components covered and the response levels. For example, a consumer desktop service wouldn’t cover complex integration problems with a Microsoft Windows network, while this would be critical for a corporate subscription designed for customers with legacy networks. Effectively, the description tries to describe the types of use-cases and categories that are covered.

I hope this has given a bit of insight into how Canonical does support and bug-fixes for our customers.


Tagged: Canonical, Linux, Ubuntu

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Steve George

If you have a commercial subscription service for Ubuntu how do we prioritise fixing bugs? This was at the heart of a conversation I had with a customer recently.

For business users Ubuntu’s advantage is often flexibility. Adding another system to the data centre is simply a matter of starting it up. This contrasts with proprietary UNIX and the other commercial Linux vendors where license management creates deployment friction.

Nonetheless, it’s hardly “free” if you can’t use the software. And Ubuntu, like all software, has bugs and issues – particularly when you’re using it in a complex environment. To resolve these issues professional users need access to expertise when there’s an issue.

In the proprietary world the license agreement commonly includes support so the customer presents the bug and they should get a resolution.

Ubuntu’s free nature presents a more nuanced picture. Every Ubuntu user is able (and encouraged) to put bugs into Launchpad. Many of these bugs will be resolved by Ubuntu community developers or Canonical’s developers as we work on the next release of Ubuntu.

Nonetheless, any individual bug is a needle in a haystack. Ubuntu receives vast numbers of bugs from our user-base so there’s no guarantee that any individual bug will get a response or a resolution. There’s inherently no prioritisation of one user over another as all members of the Open Source community are equal. Additionally, bugs are generally resolved in the version of Ubuntu under development rather than the one that the problem is reported against. The need for certainty of response and resolution is the value of a formal relationship with Canonical.

A service agreement means that the customers bugs are guaranteed a response, that the issue will be dealt with by an Ubuntu expert and that the issue will be prioritised. For Canonical engineers customer bugs are prioritised over general development work and are split into categories by urgency.

Initially when the customer presents the case the GSS (Global Support & Services) team triage it and where possible come up with an immediate workaround. If the bug requires code development then it is escalated to the appropriate engineering group. This is where a resolution for the version of Ubuntu that the customer is using is created. This is generally delivered to the customer as a custom package for them to use immediately. The resolution is then integrated into the version of Ubuntu under development so that there won’t be a regression when the customer upgrades to the next release.

So flexibility is the Ubuntu advantage, and the advantage of working with Canonical is there’s a canonical resource for Ubuntu expertise.


Tagged: Linux, Ubuntu

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Steve George

This week I’ve been in China talking about Ubuntu 10.04 and learning how Ubuntu is used. I’ve learned alot and it’s been a great opportunity to encourage businesses and partners to extend their use of Open Source (Ubuntu in particular!). I’ve really enjoyed this trip and it’s been fantastic to meet so many new people.

Like everyone else I’ve been struck by the energy in China. Everything from the traffic to the rate of technology change is done at full pace. China is a country that is growing up rapidly, across the board there’s great confidence and a total focus on how to grow both in domestic markets and in global trade.

It’s a country with significant divides between the urban and rural communities. One project we’ve been working on is to provide a PC that can be used in rural communities and education. The objective is to provide a platform for those groups to improve their lives, careers and education. The team has done a fantastic job and it’s great to see Ubuntu being part of this project.

I’ve come away convinced that Open Source is an ideal solution for many of the different challenges. Of course it’s cheaper than proprietary solutions and that has significant impact. But, more importantly Open Source and Ubuntu can deliver tailored solutions from the desktop through to the server and into the Cloud. This ability to fit into many niches as a flexible solution and help drive innovation is a key advantage for Ubuntu users.

I’d like to thank Richard, ZengPeng and Juergen for showing me around and Fanny Yeh for helping me navigate the region (particularly with the volcanic clouds!)


Tagged: Linux, Ubuntu

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Steve George

Wavesat is using the Bazaar version control system for commercial development making it simpler and easier for their teams to collaborate around the world. It’s a great example of Open Source delivering cost savings and innovation to business users. We’ve recently put up a case study that gives more details.

Bazaar (Bzr) is a distributed version control system. It’s an essential tool for developers: there’s a great guide to revision control on betterexplained.com. When people state that there’s no innovation in Open Source, distributed revision control is one of the examples that counters this.

Bazaar is particularly well suited to distributed development because the concept is built-in right from the start. Perhaps it’s testament to the open source development process which is by its nature distributed. For a business like Wavesat that has developers based in different locations this means they can be more efficient.

Canonical sponsors the development of Bazaar because distributed revision control is critical in Open Source development. But, it’s also something that companies can benefit from so we provide commercial services for Bazaar. This consists of helping organisations migrate, along with providing support and training. For organisations with an existing version control system such as CVS or Perforce we help with the migration to a new work-flow using Bazaar on Linux (Ubuntu, RHEL, SLES) or a legacy operating system such as Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac. Check out the case study for more information.


Tagged: bazaar, bzr, Linux, Ubuntu

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Steve George

Want to know Canonical’s secret business plan? Or find out the latest features we’re working on in Ubuntu or UbuntuOne? Then hop over to the Canonical Voices site.  It’s a blog aggregator that provides a single location for Canonical employees to blog and engage with the wider world.

Many Canonical employees develop Ubuntu directly making them members of the Ubuntu community so their views already appear on Ubuntu Planet. However, there are lots of Canonical employees who work in other areas, such as with OEM’s, or on UbuntuOne, in marketing or with business customers. Canonical voices brings together everyone in the company and provides a single place where you can see the breadth of their views, opinions and thoughts.

As an Open Source technology company we’re working within a variety of communities; sometimes that means an Open Source project, but it could mean a group of users or a set of companies. So it’s important for us to be transparent and to engage in a conversation – encouraging understanding and perhaps sparking interesting ideas. Canonical Voices provides a space for that.

A connected point is that Canonical hires a lot of intelligent, opinionated and interesting people who are great communicators. Hopefully, Voices will provide a focus and context for those that want to blog, sparking everyone within the company to feel they are part of an organisation wide conversation. Personally, I’ve been reading Voices regularly for the last few weeks and I’ve already learnt lots of interesting things about other projects within Canonical.

I can’t promise that I’ll be any better at blogging regularly, I’ve already broken quite a few promises and resolutions on that front! Nonetheless, I’ve started aggregating posts about Ubuntu, Linux and Canonical over to the Voices site. Please check it out and become part of the conversation!


Tagged: Ubuntu

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Steve George

Ubuntu home server

One of the most common requests the Ubuntu community asks for is a home server or small business server.  This Beepstar post, The trouble with Ubuntu Server for beginners, encapsulates the argument nicely when the article says:

“95% of the would-be “nixers” are completely stunned, at that point when the Ubuntu Server installation states that it has finished and all that’s offered to the user is a black screen and a prompt line. Users … basically scrap the whole thing, install Windows and use … solutions which lack raw power but come with an comprehensive interface”

It’s certainly an interesting point, we can surmise that one of the things that heavily assisted the growth of Windows on the server was the Graphical User Interface (GUI) that came with NT 3.5 and NT 4. At the time the competitive product was Netware which was the dominant technology for providing servers in LAN’s, and networks were themselves reasonably new for small business networks. Windows rode the networking trend really well, and gave advanced technical users (rather than professional IT staff) the idea that they could run their own servers.

I’ll come back to the question of whether Ubuntu server should be trying to focus in this area for a moment, and just focus on technology problems we face in providing a home server. There’s two elements:

a. A set of common services
The use-cases are relatively straight-forward but the key is the integration.  So we’d want thinks like basic file and print, with network services.

b. A nice user experience
An easy to use interface that can guide the user through the initial installation, but also the reconfiguration and management of the services.

We’ve been working on common services in Ubuntu server and ensuring that they’re well integrated and easy to set-up as this makes every system administrators life easier.  So making LAMP easy to install, integrating the experience of attaching to a Windows Network and the recent e-mail stack work all make setting up common services easy and quick.

To provide a graphical user experience there are a range of options.  There’s some well-known free software options, the two most well-know are E-Box and Webmin.  There’s also commercial control panels such as Plesk which is used a lot by hosting providers.

It’s difficult to see a way to integrate one of these panels as the default way of adminstering  an Ubuntu server as the impact on professional users would be dramatic.  For various reasons these tools assume that you only manage the system through the GUI.  So there’s no way to integrate them that would maintain the freedom of professional system administrators to manage the system using the command line interface.

Meanwhile, professional system administrators face a different set of problems.  The shift of delivering everything through a web server and the introduction of virtualization and cloud computing is causing an explosion of server instances.  So for these use cases the focus is on a small, efficient server with centralised configuration management capability.

The compromise may well be a small, powerful server platform aimed for cloud computing.  Then a range of appliances (virtual or otherwise) built  to meet the specific needs of both professional and personal (ie home) users.  There’s been a few different community efforts along these lines and I hope we’ll see more.

A few members of the Ubuntu Server Team wrote about this a while ago, so check out the posts by Dustin, Soren and Thierry.

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Steve George

Ubuntu is widely used as a server platform, across organisations of all sizes, particularly for web and application delivery.  Those are the results from a survey of 7000 Ubuntu users that we released a while ago, in conjunction with RedMonk.  The press coverage was good, and now it’s died down I thought I’d add a few other thoughts.

The first question has to be why we undertook a survey.  Understanding how platform’s used, what users value and what features they want is incredibly important.  We use that input to guide our development, inform our decisions and focus our attention.  Open source development provides significant detailed and direct feedback, but surveys offer some other insights.

First, they’re a route to reach people that don’t take part in the development process directly – which is the majority of users.  Second, the volume of input gives us a strong statistical basis for examining trends – 7000 users is a significant pool of input. Finally, it’s an objective confirmation to qualitative feedback that we receive through other mechanisms, this helps confirm assessments we’ve made or trends we’ve observed. If you took the survey thanks very much for your time and input!

What are the main take-aways from the survey? Well clearly our users depend on Ubuntu as a server platform, it’s used for serious production deployments.  It’s used across a wide range of organisation sizes and industries.  That’s important because it tells us that our efforts to develop the platform, and spread the message that Ubuntu has a strong server capability are meeting with success.  It’s also a data driven stake through the heart of the myth that Ubuntu server is only used by small business or hobbyists.

Second, that our users value the key qualities that we provide – the heritage from Debian, the regular releases, the focus on a tight and efficient platform for all the common workloads.  I was particularly struck by the range of workloads that Ubuntu is being used for.  We see Ubuntu being used for edge of network infrastucture (DNS/Web), but also internal application delivery (Java app serving/Databases) and it’s starting to make its way into line of business (CRM/ERP) delivery.  These aspects are important because they guide our focus for future development as we make our way towards the next LTS release in 2010.

Finally, the range of geographies and individual situations where the server is deployed is incredibly exciting.  Between the geographical data from Shipit and this survey we can conclude that Ubuntu is used globally. From a large media delivery platform in Europe, to a school in the Phillipines, each is spreading Ubuntu and benefiting from it in their own unique way.  In the long-run this reach broadens the tent of Ubuntu (and Linux) supporters and developers.  If the next 8 million users come from the developing world image what we can accomplish!

My thanks to Nick Barcet and the server community who put the survey together – it was a lot of work but has been really beneficial.  I hope we’ll continue to run surveys in the future so that we can build up a picture of how things change.  If you’d like to see the results with a deeper analysis then pop over to Gerry Carr’s blog post to download the whitepaper.


Tagged: Ubuntu

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Steve George

I really enjoyed Ubucon NY which happened on the Friday after LinuxWorld New York. Ubucon’s are informal gatherings where Ubuntu users get together to learn and socialise. The New York one was set up as an unconference so the attendees decided what the activities and talks would be. They’re organised by active members of the user community. John Mark did a great job organising it, and kept the day clicking along. Leslie and the rest of the Google team deserve thanks for providing the facilities and their overall enthusiasm. I of course returned the favour by making sure that no food on the buffet went
to waste!

It was interesting to see the wide variety of people who are active and interested enough to come along to a community event. The range was amazing, from professional business users who wanted to learn more about Ubuntu, to some of the seasoned Free Software activists.

Fabian did a great talk about our commercial support services for Ubuntu and what it’s like to work at Canonical. I learnt a few things myself! I was supposed to do a talk on the Ubuntu roadmap but there wasn’t enough time at the end of the day. So as people were getting tired I did a quick Q&A session on Canonical and Ubuntu instead. It got picked up in eWeek which was very surprising as it really was short: I think I managed to answer most people’s questions with a reasonable level of clarity!

If you’d like to be notified about upcoming Ubucon’s then you can subscribe to the Wiki page. The plan is for the next one to be in Sevilla, Spain on Saturday May 5th and is being organised by Jono Bacon. We’re also having our first formal user and business conference called Ubuntu Live. It’s in Portland, USA and comes right in front of OSCON July 22nd to 24th – make it a date in your diary!


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