Google Cloud gets 'snappy' with Ubuntu Core support

Canonical's Docker-friendly micro-OS arrives on Compute Engine

Canonical's "snappy" new formulation of Ubuntu has gained the support of another major public cloud vendor, with Google making the lightweight Linux available for customers of its Compute Engine IaaS offering.

Announced earlier this month, Ubuntu Core is a stripped-down version of the OS designed specifically for large-scale cloud deployments running applications in Docker containers. Developed based on lessons learned from Canonical's efforts to get Ubuntu running on phones, its compressed boot image clocks in at around 100MB.

Unusually, Microsoft was the first cloud vendor to get on board with the new effort, offering support for launching Ubuntu Core instances via its Azure command-line tools. With Tuesday's announcement, Google, too, joins the party.

The idea of offering a no-frills Linux variant for Docker deployments isn't unique to Ubuntu. It arguably originated with CoreOS, and even Red Hat has since come up with a bare-bones version of its Enterprise Linux.

But Ubuntu has the advantage of already being extremely popular for public cloud deployments. According to DigitalOcean – which web survey outfit Netcraft says is now the third-largest hosting provider in the world – more than two-thirds of all machine instances in its cloud are running Ubuntu.

What's more, while Ubuntu Core provides a smaller OS footprint for running those workloads, it also offers an additional advantage, in the form of a new software update management system that Canonical is calling "snappy."

Unlike traditional, package-based update systems, snappy updates are transactional. All data is backed up before an update is applied, and if the update fails for any reason, the system can be rolled back to its former state.

Snappy updates are also easier to manage than those in traditional Linux systems. Instead of applications being composed of multiple packages – even hundreds of packages – with various interdependencies, each snappy application is a single unit.

"I bet the average system on the cloud ends up with about three packages installed, total!" Canonical maestro Mark Shuttleworth mused in a blog post earlier this month. "That's much easier to manage and reason about at scale."

Some of those packages will be frameworks that provide services to other applications that depend on them. And the first such framework that's available for Ubuntu Core is – surprise, surprise – Docker.

For now, however, the Ubuntu Core images should be considered either alpha or beta software – depending on which of Canonical's marketing materials you read – and will remain so throughout Ubuntu's current development cycle. But if you'd like to check it out on Google's cloud now, Canonical has some instructions available here.

It also remains available on Azure and as a KVM virtual machine image for trying out locally.

The matter of when or if public cloud mega-giant Amazon Web Services will support Ubuntu Core, however, remains an open question. ®

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