Sunshine with clouds – Ubuntu’s game changing release

I’m going to use the term “Cloud” in this post which I despise for it’s nebulosity. The press has bandied the term around so much that it means everything from the Net as a whole to Google Apps to virtualization. My “cloud” means a cluster of virtual machines.

I’ve been a huge fan of Mark Shuttleworth for a long time. Besides the fact that his parents have great taste in first names, he’s taken his success with Thawte and ploughed it right back into the community who’s shoulders he stood on when he was getting started. And he’s a fellow South African. Ubuntu is doing for online business what the Clipper ship builders did for the tea trade in the 1800’s. [Incidentally, the Clipper ship is still the fastest commercial sailing vessel ever built.]

Today the huge distributed team that is Ubuntu released Karmic or Ubuntu 9.10. Karmic Server Edition includes the Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud (UEC) that allows you to take a group of physical machines, turn one of them into a controller and run multiple virtual machines on the others and manage them all from a single console.

The reason this is a game changer is because this brings an open source cloud deployment and management system into the main-stream. I’ve been opposed to using Amazon’s EC2 or any other proprietary cloud system because of the vendor lock-in. To effectively deploy in the cloud you need to invest a lot of time building your system for the cloud. And if it’s proprietary you are removing yourself from the hosting free-market. A year down the road your vendor can charge you whatever they like because the cost to leave is so much greater. And god help you if they go under.

It’s also been much more cost effective to buy your own hardware and amortize it over 3 or 4 years if your cash-flow can support doing that – rather than leasing. As of today you can both own the physical machines and run your own robust private cloud on them with a very well supported open source linux distro.

The UEC is also compatible with Amazon EC2 which lets you (in theory) move between EC2 and your private cloud with ease.

The advantages of building a cloud are clear. Assuming the performance cost of virtualization is low (it is), it lets you more effectively use your hardware. For example, your mail server source repository and proxy server can all run on their own virtual machines, sharing the hardware and you can track each machine’s performance separately and move one off to a different physical box if it starts hogging resources.

But what I love most about virtualization is the impact it has on Dev and QA. You can duplicate your entire production web cluster on two or three physical machines for Dev and do it again for QA.

To get started with Ubuntu UEC, read this overview, then this rather managerial guide to deploying and then this more practical guide to actually getting the job done.