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Ubuntu scores first major pre-installed server win


Ubuntu is extremely popular on the desktop, but it’s made comparatively little progress on servers. That’s about to change. Dell is expected to announce in the first quarter of 2008 that it has certified Ubuntu Linux for its server lines.

In an interview with Rick Becker, Dell Product Group’s vice president of solutions, Becker said that Dell is currently in the process of certifying Ubuntu for all its server lines. “But we are still several months away from announcing a certification. I’d say it’ll be announced in Q1 next year.”

Dell, however, is already selling pre-loaded Ubuntu on its servers. “At the moment, if a Dell customer asks us to pre-load Ubuntu on a server, we’ll do it for them. We do the same for Red Hat and SUSE. Our open-source support group will work with them as best they can, but most developers who ask for Linux probably know more than we do about Ubuntu. In fact, we may ask them for advice,” said Becker.

For now, Dell will direct customers who get pre-installed Ubuntu Linux on its servers to Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, and the Ubuntu community for support. “With Linux, it’s not like you can just pick up the phone [and get support], as you know. We can’t go too deeply into Ubuntu support at this time. We’ll pre-load and resell it, and support the hardware with our Dell support folks. We’ll refer people to the Ubuntu community if we need to,” said Becker.

After all, explained Becker, “We’re not into operating systems much. We’ll let the other companies handle those. We’re much more into providing the hardware and the management software, as well as optimizing how it runs on our servers, finding bugs, making sure the drivers work well, etc.”

Just a day earlier, Dell had announced that it had formally certified Sun’s Solaris on its servers. By March of next year, Dell, once an almost 100 percent Windows Server shop, will be offering pre-installed RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux), SLES (SUSE Linux Enterprise Server), Solaris and Ubuntu Server to customers across its standalone, rack and blade server lines by the spring of 2008.

Gerry Carr, marketing manager for Canonical, said he was unable to comment directly on Dell’s decision since “although it is our software, these are entirely Dell internal matters so we cannot comment on them. As a good partner, until and unless we are given specific permission to talk about any initiative, then we have to defer to Dell.”

There is, however, no secret that Canonical has been working to get Ubuntu on the server and Dell’s servers in specific. Carr and other Canonical executives are on record as saying that Canonical has been working on persuading server OEMs, and Dell in particular, of the advantages of offering Ubuntu on their servers since this summer.

Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical’s CEO, added: “It would be superb for adoption–and would accelerate the positive trends we see already. We have indicators from several ISVs saying that Ubuntu is now their No. 1 or No. 2 server platform. These are more aggressive, newer ISVs, but even some proprietary heavyweights have started to come knocking about certification, support and joint sales, largely based on perceived momentum for the Ubuntu server platform among their customers.

“So I would be delighted if Dell took this step. I think it would be very reassuring to the people who are already deploying Ubuntu on the server; it would make Dell attractive to them as a supplier and it would catalyse another round of adoption by folks who require certification and support throughout their stack,” Shuttleworth said.

Dell was also the first major PC OEM to offer pre-installed Linux on desktop and laptop lines. Dell began this move with Ubuntu-powered desktops and notebooks in May 2007. Sources at Dell indicate that the company will soon be offering pre-installed Ubuntu on more desktop and laptop lines with the latest version of Ubuntu 7.10.

“We have built a very productive relationship with Dell on the consumer range, which does continue to mature, and will build on that as the market requires it. The Dell folks have a knack for tracking demand and responding,” Shuttleworth said.

Ubuntu’s first major server success was getting Ubuntu certified on Sun’s Fire T1000 and T2000 servers. Since then, Ubuntu has continued to work hard on its server support efforts. In July, for example, Canonical launched Landscape, its Web-based systems management program for Ubuntu servers and desktops, and the company has also expanded its support, training and certification efforts. In short, Canonical has been busy during 2007 setting up all the business infrastructure needed to support enterprise server customers.

As Carr said, there are no specific announcements to make at this time.

“Our position remains that we are keen to see Ubuntu on as many servers and as many desktops as we can get it onto,” he said.

With Dell’s forthcoming server certification, Canonical and Ubuntu are posed to make a major step forward in the server market.

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

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