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Ubuntu shops prefer the bleeding edge

Sunshine on a cloudy day

In preparation for the rollout of Ubuntu Server 10.04 Long Term Support next month, Canonical, the commercial sponsor of the Linux variant, and the Ubuntu community polled Ubuntu users to see how they use the operating system.

Canonical is also keen on finding out what Ubuntu shops think of the focus on cloud computing and how relevant it is to them today as well as in the future. In the wake of the delivering of the Ubuntu 9.10 release late last year, the company solicited responses to an online survey of Ubuntu users through the Ubuntu forums and a variety of Web sites and other channels; a total of 2,650 finished the survey, although as you can see from the report, quite a number of people did not respond to important questions that Canonical asked.

Techies can be a cantankerous lot, even when they are trying to be helpful. As you might expect, more than half of the Ubuntu users were affiliated with a technology company of some sort, engaged in hardware, software, or services. About 15 per cent of those responding to the survey were affiliated with an educational institution as either a student or a staff member of some kind. The finance, healthcare, insurance, manufacturing, retail, and publishing industries, and local, state, and federal governments accounted for about 5 per cent of respondents. Canonical suspects that the data was somewhat skewed towards European organizations and that it might have done a better job promoting the survey in North America.

To get a sense of where Ubuntu stands in relation to other platforms, Canonical asked respondents to count up all the other operating systems at their companies. The vast majority of shops have either Windows or Linux, and with Unix being about half as prevalent as Linux and a smattering of IBM's OS/400 midrange platforms and and other platforms.

Across all survey respondents, there were several hundred thousand different servers installed with these various platforms. Canonical did not give out the precise numbers, but showed the server OS distibution graphically. The company also said that it reckons that among the Ubuntu shops polled, Ubuntu Server Edition accounts for about an 80 per cent share of installed Linuxes.

About two thirds of the respondents said they had deployed Ubuntu Server Edition 8.04 LTS, making it by far the most popular Ubuntu release in this subset of the Ubuntu installed base. There were a few hundred shops still using the 6.06 LTS server release, which will be supported until June 2011 with security and maintenance patches. The 6.10, 7.04, and 7.10 releases also have some users, but 8.10 is more popular and the base of 9.04 and 9.10 server releases installed is about the same size as the 8.04 LTS release.

As you can see, the Canonical plan of offering long-term support for server and desktop releases as well as updating the product on a two year cycle has exactly the intended effect: companies tend stick to the LTS releases, except at the bleeding edge, where developers and certain other companies that need the hardware support or other features of the most current releases (such as the integrated cloud infrastructure management that came with Ubuntu Server Edition 9.10) have no choice but to step outside of the LTS pattern.

As Canonical's new chief executive officer, Jane Silber, recently explained to El Reg, support for the latest hardware for each successive Ubuntu release is what matters most to Ubuntu shops. Ninety-two per cent of respondents cited this as being important or very important. Servers from Dell, HP, IBM, Fujitsu, and Sun Microsystems Oracle based on x64 processors dominated the Ubuntu installed base, with a smattering of other architectures and a large number of tower and desktop PCs also running Ubuntu Server Edition.

Nearly all of the respondents said that package update management ranked high on their list, too, as an important reason to choose Ubuntu, and good security and simple upgrades were cited nearly universally as being important or very important. The availability of commercial applications running atop Ubuntu or commercial tech support from Canonical or independent software vendors didn't rank very high, and no one gave a damn that Canonical was a relatively small company.

Not surprisingly, about 72 per cent of the respondents to the survey said they considered Ubuntu to be ready for supporting mission-critical applications, with only 7 per cent saying, uh, no. It is not clear what is going on here, but 21 per cent of respondents didn't give an answer to the question. Maybe they resent the implication that there is something we might call mission-irrelevant applications, and perhaps they are the very same people stuck coding these applications for their companies.

In terms of mission-critical applications, 1,616 of the respondents said database serving was the big job at their companies, followed by 1,506 citing file serving, 1,016 saying firewall and security software, 1,175 picking mail serving, and 1,534 saying data archiving and backup were mission-critical. Oddly enough, only 192 of the companies polled said ERP software rose to the mission-critical level.

Development and test, print serving, and other infrastructure workloads also ranked high in the list, of course. (These numbers are not tied to Linux generally or Ubuntu Server Edition specifically, but vaguely relate to the company as a whole, regardless of platform.) Interestingly, 241 of the respondents said "cloud infrastructure" was mission critical. As if cloudy infrastructure were not just a platform on which to do all these other jobs, ultimately…

To most people, cloud infrastructure means virtualized servers that are pooled for shared usage by applications inside the firewall or available under per-usage pricing schemes on shared public clouds such as Amazon's EC2. Given that Canonical has integrated the open source Eucalyptus cloud management framework into Ubuntu, which gives it the look and feel of EC2 even though it hosts virtual machines on the KVM hypervisor instead of Amazon's variant of Xen, the company is keen on seeing what Ubuntu shops think of all things cloudy.

Only 54 per cent of those polled said they had used some sort of cloud infrastructure, using the widest possible definition for cloud - meaning software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Some 36 per cent of those who took the Canonical survey said they have not used cloudy stuff, and 10 per cent said they didn't know. (How can you not know?)

Public cloud usage among Ubuntu users was pretty thin, with only 10 per cent saying they have used a public cloud delivering IaaS like EC2 and 62 per cent saying they haven't. Significantly for Canonical, 20 per cent of those polled said they expected to increase their use of cloudy infrastructure in the coming year, and 69 per cent said that they felt that Ubuntu was an appropriate platform on which to deploy clouds. About 7 per cent of Ubuntu shops said they had already made some sort of cloud using the Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud Edition of the operating system.

About 60 per cent of those polled said private clouds, where companies could secure their data better, were more important than public clouds at their companies, and only 15 per cent said the reverse; 25 percent said they were about equal.

The opportunity seems to be larger for IaaS deployed internally, which is what Canonical is positioning Ubuntu Server Edition 10.04 LTS to do. We'll see how fast companies actually make clouds in their data centers in the next year or so. ®

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