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Canonical pushes LXD, its new mysterious drug for Linux containers

We take the hype out of Ubuntu maker's non-hypervisor hypervisor

Analysis Canonical, the company behind the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution, says it's working on a new "virtualization experience" based on container technologies – but just how it will operate remains something of a mystery.

Canonical founder and erstwhile space tourist Mark Shuttleworth announced the new effort, dubbed LXD and pronounced "lex-dee," during a keynote speech at the OpenStack Expo in Paris on Tuesday.

"Take all the speed and efficiency of docker, and turn it into a full virtualisation experience," Canonical beams on the LXD homepage. "That's the goal of Canonical's new initiative to create the next big hypervisor around Linux container technologies."

With LXD, the company says, admins will be able to spin up new machine instances in "under a second" and launch hundreds of them on a single server, all with airtight security. The LXD software itself will provide a RESTful API for managing these container images with easy-to-use command line tools, either locally via a Unix socket or over the internet.

Sprinkle liberally with magic dust

It starts to get a little murky from there, though. Canonical is calling this new tool a "hypervisor," yet elsewhere on the same page it says it "isn't a hypervisor." It also claims that LXD will offer "complete operating system functionality within containers, not just single processes" – but that sounds a lot like virtualization, which would seem to negate some of the benefits of containers.

"Not at all," Canonical's Dustin Kirkland told El Reg via email, adding that LXD is both a culmination of Canonical's work implementing OpenStack clouds for enterprise customers and a response to demand from customers who aren't satisfied with current virtualization solutions.

"Other customers want the experience of a full Ubuntu operating system, within a container environment," Kirkland said. "And that's where LXD fits. We're shooting for the 'virtualized' experience, but within a container."

Canonical says this will only work for Linux instances running on Linux. You can't run Windows in a container on Linux, for example. But the company claims you will be able to run multiple instances of Debian, Red Hat, Ubuntu, or any other Linux distro on a host that's running a different variant – even though LXD, it says, is not strictly virtualization.

"All of this work is aimed at giving you the full experience of virtual machines, the full security of a hypervisor, but much, much faster," the LXD homepage explains. "Without all that virtualization overhead, you get the full underlying performance of your host environment."

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