Ubuntu gets pre-Koala cloud love

The sky is open


As Mark Shuttleworth preps a new "Karmic Koala" Ubuntu distro suited to life with its head in the Amazon clouds, Thorsten von Eicken has lent a helping hand.

Von Eicken is the CTO and co-founder of RightScale, a Santa Barbara, California outfit offering what it calls "a fully automated cloud-management platform." In other words, it helps you deploy and run your server apps on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other so-called infrastructure clouds from companies such as Flexiscale and GoGrid.

In theory, these clouds give you instant access to a virtually infinite array of compute power, letting you grab more cycles, more storage, and more bandwidth whenever you like. But it's not as easy as it sounds, and RightScale strives to grease the wheels.

"We're out there to provide a way of leveraging those infrastructure-in-the-cloud offerings coming from Amazon and now others, so that we offer a degree of portability and interoperability and an entire cloud-aware platform that lets companies have full visibility into what they're running," RightScale CEO Michael Crandell tells us.

The company offers pre-built "templates" for common server applications - a Ruby on Rails website, say, or a video-encoding engine - and these are specifically designed for cloud-sitting. The idea is that you use these templates to build applications on your own server, and then hoist them onto Amazon, Flexiscale, or GoGrid. And if all goes according to plan, these templates should move easily between clouds - from Amazon to Flexiscale, say, and back again.

Originally, these templates were built for CentOS - otherwise known as Red Hat Enterprise. But as of last week, the company is also offering templates for Ubuntu - and support resources too.

"When we started, CentOS was the most established Linux-standard operating system. But all along we've seen more and more users trying to use RightScale with Ubuntu, and though we're done out best not to turn them away, we've had limited resources," says von Eicken, who worked alongside Amazon Web Services father figure Werner Vogels while doing distributed-systems research at Cornell University in the mid-1990s. "Now, we're dedicating resources to make it seamless to get your apps to the cloud when you're using Ubuntu."

This Ubuntu demand, he says, is coming mostly from startups and Web 2.0-type companies as opposed to enterprises. At the moment, the new Ubuntu templates run only on Amazon Web Services, but RightScale will likely tweak for other clouds as time goes on.

Meanwhile, Mark Shuttleworth and his Ubuntu minions are tweaking the open-source OS to include standard Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) that can be lobbed onto Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). "Ubuntu aims to keep free software at the forefront of cloud computing by embracing the APIs of Amazon EC2 and making it easy for anybody to set up their own cloud using entirely open tools," the spaceman said in a recent blog post.

"We're currently in beta with official Ubuntu base AMIs for use on Amazon EC2. During the Karmic cycle we want to make it easy to deploy applications into the cloud, with ready-to-run appliances or by quickly assembling a custom image."

Ubuntu 9.10 - dubbed Karmic Koala because "a good Koala knows how to see the wood for the trees, even when her head is in the clouds" - will also embrace Eucalyptus, a set of open-source tools that allow organizations to build their own Amazon-like clouds.

RightScale has already tapped into Eucalyptus, and after Shuttleworth's announcement von Eicken and company couldn't help but join the Ubuntu fun. "Canonical stepping forward with its cloud support is extremely important to us," he tells us. "The last thing we want is to build all these software stacks then find out that there's some sort of kernel issue we can't fix."

Some have argued that Shuttleworth is somehow betraying his open-source mission by hooking his baby to a "closed" Amazon cloud. You see, Amazon has yet to publish its Web Services API, and in a rather passive way it has worked to keep users from moving their apps from one cloud to another. But von Eicken sees no reason why this should be a threat to open source.

"I, of course, hope that Canonical will indeed monetize their cloud efforts by offering paid support services in the cloud environment," he writes in recent blog post.

"I want them to stay around to continue supporting the Ubuntu project! But I see a cloud support offering as being no different than offering paid support services in the data center environment, which they do today. Does anyone complain that Canonical offers support on Dell servers because the servers are not free? What’s different in the cloud? We pay Amazon to “lease” the servers and they run them to boot. How different is that with respect to Ubuntu or Canonical? Go figure." ®

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