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Ubuntu: It’s not just for desktops anymore

Come Oct. 18, Canonical, Ubuntu’s corporate backer, will be offering the shipping version of Ubuntu 7.10 Server Edition for free download.

According to the company, Ubuntu Server focuses on providing a robust server platform that is both reliable and secure while ensuring that users get the usability and ease of management they expect from Ubuntu. The new release adds an enhanced security capability that protects common workloads and is easy to configure for advanced requirements.

7.10 also comes with three new quick-start profiles so users can automatically set up a server for such typical uses as an e-mail, database or Web server. These profiles are in addition to the existing LAMP and DNS ones and significantly ease deployment, management and maintenance for edge-of-the-network server jobs.

In a Linux-Watch interview, Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical’s CEO and Ubuntu’s founder, said the server team has been, and will continue, to grow. Canonical is also working directly with server OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to ensure compatibility. Specifically, Ubuntu Server Edition is available and optimized for x86, AMD64, EM64T (Intel Core & Xeon), and Sun SPARC architectures.

“There is already a lot of work being done with hardware vendors and there will be a fair amount of hardware enablement after the release,” Shuttleworth said. “We’re confident we can do all the engineering required to just make Ubuntu work on servers.”

Ubuntu 7.10, Gutsy Gibbon, will include several new features. The first will be to improve security by adopting AppArmor. This is a security framework that’s used to protect server applications with security policies. Ubuntu provides pre-set default policies for common server applications such as the Apache Web server and the Postfix e-mail server. Unlike SELinux, AppArmor is regarded as easy to deploy even on applications, which don’t come with a pre-built policy. SELinux is also still available on Ubuntu, but Shuttleworth said “Ubuntu’s focus is on AppArmor.”

It’s because of these security improvements that Shuttleworth has declared that Ubuntu is now a “world-class enterprise operating system.”

Administrators can also implement tailored kernel optimized for use in virtualized environments. This smaller and simpler kernel is particularly suited for virtual appliances. This new kernel includes many improvements for paravirtualization, one of which is VMI (Virtual Machine Interface), a new independent way for hypervisors to relate to the kernel.

Shuttleworth believes that “Virtualization is a key driver for Ubuntu on the server. With this release, it will be easier to use Ubuntu as a virtual machine on Red Hat, SUSE or Windows. In turn, Ubuntu will also be better as a host for other virtualized operating systems.

In addition, Ubuntu has adopted the tickless kernel, which was introduced in the Linux 2.6.21 kernel. This new “tickless” idle mode should result in reduced power consumption and heat emission. The bottom line is that should help a company’s bottom line by reducing energy costs, especially on machines running several virtualized instances.

With improvements to the CUPS (Common Unix Printing System), the Ubuntu 7.10 server can now automatically discover and authenticate many more protocols used by printers, including LDAP with SSL, Kerberos, Mac OS X Bonjour and Zeroconf. Because of this, Shuttleworth said, Ubuntu is quickly getting to the point that it can work out of the box with any Mac OS X compatible printer.

“Ubuntu Server is proving itself as a solid, maintainable platform for business infrastructure,” said Jane Silber, Canonical’s COO. “This release of Ubuntu Server Edition is particularly easy to provision and deploy on large numbers of servers with specific software package requirements.”

“Having established its credibility on the desktop, with millions of deployments worldwide, Ubuntu’s aiming to bring that same strength to the server platform,” said Stephen O’Grady, principal analyst for open-source analysis company RedMonk, in a statement. “With strength in its application repository volume and a focus on virtualization, Ubuntu’s likely to be an increasingly attractive choice for buyers.”

Shuttleworth certainly thinks that’s the case. Shuttleworth said, “We feel confident in saying that Ubuntu now has six-million-plus users. Many of those users are now deploying Ubuntu on their company and organizational servers. For them, it makes it much easier to have a single operating system from the desktop and workstation to the server.”

“Ubuntu,” however, “will not be targeting Red Hat.” Nor will Ubuntu be going to use its model. Instead, Shuttleworth sees Ubuntu “expanding the Linux market. The early adoption of Linux came at the expense of Unix. Today that is no longer a fertile source of growth for Linux. People who are still on Unix today will stay on Unix.”

Instead, Ubuntu will grow not from taking market share from Unix or the other Linuxes, but by “changing the economic model, and making money only from customers who need support at the appropriate places, we’ll represent a challenge to Windows.” It’s from Microsoft that Shuttleworth sees Ubuntu’s customers coming from.

“This will not be happening overnight. The server market is a conservative one. It will take years for certification for IHVs and ISVs, but we can see it happening in the future,” said Shuttleworth. And, after all, “Ubuntu is here for the long run.”

Ubuntu 7.10 updates will be published at no charge to all users of the platform. This free maintenance service includes backports of new hardware support, minor updates and security updates. Ubuntu 7.10 will be maintained for 18 months on both the desktop and on the server upon which users can upgrade free of charge to a new version. Ubuntu 7.10 is not a LTS (Long Term Support) release (three years support on the desktop and five years on the server); the next LTS release will appear in 2008. For more information on the server, see the Ubuntu server site.

For deployments which require additional service guarantees, full telephone and online support is commercially available from Canonical professional support team. Details are available at the Canonical support site.

A version of this story was first published in Linux-Watch.

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