We shall call him Mini-U – Ubuntu reveals tiny cloudy server

‘Minimal Ubuntu’ is optimised for KVM, containers, AWS’ new hypervisor and Google Cloud

Canonical has released a new cut of Ubuntu it recommends for use in the cloud and containers.

“Minimal Ubuntu” is based on either Ubuntu 16.04 LTS or 18.04 LTS. A Docker image of the latter weighs in at positively paltry 29MB, making it a highly efficient starting point for developers needing to rapidly shovel out containerised applications. Images of the OS for the cloud are said to be “less than 50% the size of the standard Ubuntu server image, and boot up to 40% faster.” We think that makes them around 400MB.

The Ubuntu team told The Register that while an optimised kernel for Azure existed, they had yet to publish a Minimal image for Microsoft fans (although one is planned at some point.)

Canonical was keen to point out that Minimal Ubuntu “preserves full compatibility with standard Ubuntu operations.” That means it’s possible to build custom images by adding your desired packages.

Like Windows NanoServer and ServerCore, this distro is not intended to be a sysadmin’s or developer's daily desktop. Indeed, Ubuntu said the new cuts “are not intended to be comfortable to use at the command line”, but instead will be the kind of thing you’ll spin up and drive with automation. An unminimize command will install all the packages found in a standard Ubuntu server, including various GUI-fied niceties.

Ubuntu was keen to point out that its minimal issue balances compatibility, familiarity and size on Docker workflows with Kubernetes.

Canonical also reckons that the shrunken size will result in fewer vulnerabilities over time because, well, there is simply less stuff in the distribution to attack.

For those who eventually want a full-fat experience, Minimal Ubuntu can be quickly rebloated into the familiar server package set. Otherwise, users must make do with a completely stripped-down experience, shorn of the fripperies of the modern age such as editors or documentation.

Also notable is that “Minimal Ubuntu uses the optimized kernels on Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. The downloadable Minimal Ubuntu image ships with a KVM-optimised kernel and tuned for boot speed and size.”

AWS only adopted KVM in late 2017, and did so for new instance types powered by its “Nitro” server architecture. This means Minimal Ubuntu will do best on newer AWS instances. There’ll be no such complications on Google, as it’s all KVM, all the time.

Speaking of those clouds, Minimal Ubuntu’s already in ’em across all regions, just waiting to be applied to an instance.

The 18.04 Long Term Support (LTS) release hit earlier this year, and LTS users were saddened to find it shorn of the Unity desktop, with the GNOME shell taking its place. The Minimal image will obviously suffer from no such issue.

For those of you who’d rather run them somewhere else, downloads are available here.

Ubuntu’s a little late to the game with this release, as the two versions of Windows mentioned above have been around for many months and Microsoft just announced third version of Windows Server for containers. CoreOS, VMware’s Photon OS and Red Hat Project Atomic all target similar uses. But at least Ubuntu’s in the game now. ®

Serverless Computing London in November will give you the state of play on serverless and function as a service, and explain how to put them to work in your business. Full details, and ticket information, at the website here.

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