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Is Ubuntu enterprise ready?

Anyone who follows Linux at all knows that Ubuntu is currently the Linux community’s favorite distribution. But can Canonical Ltd., the company behind Ubuntu, translate that popular success into business success?
Certainly, under the leadership of Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical is trying to do just that. While Ubuntu will always be a free distribution, Canonical has been putting together the alliances it needs with IHVs (independent hardware vendors) and ISVs (independent software vendors) to move into corporate offices.

Today, for example, Canonical business users can use such business mainstays as SugarCRM; IBM’s DB2 database; VMware’s VMI and Para-Ops; and Sun’s open-source JEE (Java Enterprise Edition) 5 GlassFish application server, the Java SE Development Kit 6, Java DB 10.2, the Sun-supported version of the Apache Derby relational database manager, and the NetBeans IDE (integrated development environment) 5.5.

The company has also been working hard on its computer relationships. It already has a strong partnership with Sun, and it seems to be well on its way to being one of the first Linuxes to appear preinstalled on Dell’s desktops and laptops.

In addition, Canonical has been expanding its support operations. The company already has a basic certification for administrators, which is derived from the Linux Professional Institute, LPIC-1: the Ubuntu Certified Professional. Canonical is also close to announcing Ubuntu training programs and a new, higher-level certification. This new certification is meant to be the equivalent of an RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer) or MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer).

Will all of this be enough to make Ubuntu a competitor to the likes of RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) and Novell’s SLES (SUSE Linux Enterprise Server) in business?

According to George Weiss, a Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst, and Thomas Skybakmoen, a Gartner analyst, in a recent report, Determining Whether Ubuntu Linux Is Right for You, “With support offered by Canonical, IT organizations that want to deploy Linux on servers without paying a subscription license fee for every server will be able to mix and match non-subscription-based Linux with enterprise-licensed support, unlike Red Hat and other Linux distributor models.”

The Gartner analysts see Canonical executing “a disruptive business model against traditional Linux vendors, such as Red Hat and Novell. However, server success in the next 24 months will be primarily in such markets as education [Edubuntu], service providers, massive Web farms and developers.”

Because “Ubuntu/Canonical does not impose a restriction on deploying a Linux enterprise subscription on every server, it enables users to add support as needed without revamping the Linux infrastructure, providing a smoother transition from a free-of-charge to a supported environment.” By thus providing a free and easy way to introduce Linux into businesses, they believe “Ubuntu will make a play to compete for enterprise Linux server business against Red Hat, Novell and Oracle.”

This won’t be happening overnight. The Gartner analysts do not see Ubuntu achieving “fast rates of commercial success, but it could disrupt escalating high-volume contracts, particularly to Red Hat.” Eventually, the analysts believe “Canonical will gradually establish Ubuntu as the low-maintenance/low-cost preference in enterprise low-function/high-volume servers, where functional stability is preset and life cycle maintenance is minimal.”

To pull this off, “Canonical/Ubuntu must attract key ISVs and IHVs, such as IBM and HP, to break through the old ‘chicken or the egg’ marketing dilemma.”

For the business world, Ubuntu also has the problem of lacking the “update services, management, provisioning and monitoring through a Web-based interface,” which enables administrators to manage “an entire Linux infrastructure, featuring role-based groupings, administration for policies and permissions, and scheduled actions.”

Even without the equivalent of Red Hat’s RHN (Red Hat Network) or Novell’s ZENworks system management programs, thanks to Debian’s thousands of software packages and the other factors in Ubuntu’s favor, the analysts see Ubuntu finding “enterprise acceptance in basic IT infrastructures where organizations already have the minimal prerequisite skills of administering and maintaining Linux and want to exercise independence from forced subscriptions when service levels are unimportant.”

It may not be where Canonical would like Ubuntu to be, but if the analysts are correct, it’s still a solid first step into the enterprise.

A version of this story first appeared in Linux-Watch.

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