Ubuntu’s Enterprising Ibex Springs Into Release

Paul RubensCanonical is stepping up its Linux assault on the enterprise with the launch of Ubuntu 8.10 Server Edition. Code-named Intrepid Ibex, the latest version of the Ubuntu server operating system was made available for free download on Wednesday by the distribution’s London, UK-based sponsor.

Ibex will be maintained for 18 months, compared to the previous version (Hardy Heron) which has a lifetime of five years, but organizations willing to forgo the longevity of Heron are promised a whole raft of new features. “This release is an opportunity to bring in interesting and exciting work that has been done by the community,” explained Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu’s founder, during a press call.

Virtualization Leads the List of New Features

So what’s new in Ibex? Inevitably, enhanced virtualization capabilities are among the new features Shuttleworth is keen to highlight. The pared down, minimalist Just Enough OS (JEOS) version of Ubuntu introduced in Heron is now an installation option in Ibex, enabling administrators to create a lightweight instance of the operating system with “just enough” features for virtual appliances. Ibex also introduces a virtual machine builder tool (imaginatively called Vm-builder) to set up, create and deploy a virtual machine in under five minutes. “This makes it trivial for sys admins to design a virtual machine and deploy it on Amazon[’s Elastic Compute Cloud service],” said Shuttleworth.

Ibex has also been designed to operate in a virtualized environment as easily as possible, and is now supported running as a paravirtualized guest on the Xen hypervisor, as well as on VMware and KVM. On the latter, the memory allocated to Ubuntu machines can now be dynamically resized without the need to reboot, Shuttleworth said. However the company has not revealed any plans to support Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor, which itself supports Xen virtual machines.

There’s been much talk about Ubuntu and Java over the past months, and Canonical has been working with Sun on OpenJDK which is now fully supported and included in the distro, along with the Apache Tomcat 6.0 application server. “People are very familiar with components like Tomcat—they trust us to make it work,” assured Shuttleworth.

Ubuntu Ibex now also includes a bundled client for Landscape, Canonical’s system management tool which allows automatic deployment and monitoring. “This is a cloud-oriented web-based management tool,” said Shuttleworth. “It provides basic stats and info for users and a framework for a web-based management solution.”

Among other new features, Canonical has made it easier to run mail servers on Ubuntu with the introduction of the open-source ClamAV anti-virus solution and the SpamAssassin spam detection system, both of which are downloadable from the main Ubuntu repositories. There are plenty other ones too, like the ability for administrators to encrypt their home directories to the contents if a server is stolen.

Netbooks Loom Large

On the desktop side of the business, Canonical is particularly excited by the new generation of lightweight, low costs “netbook” computers, pioneered by Asus with its EeePC, but now offered by Dell, Acer, MSI and other vendors. That’s because they are designed to be as cheap as possible, which means that a user-friendly version of Linux (like Ubuntu) is far more attractive to the vendors than a version of Windows which would attract license fees and add to the cost of the device. In many cases the machines are too low spec to run Vista satisfactorily anyway.

“The industry is racing down the path to netbooks,” Shuttleworth enthused—and by happy co-incidence Canonical already offers “Ubuntu Netbook Remix,” a variant on Ubuntu desktop specifically designed for netbooks as an alternative to the more obscure Linux distros some of these netbook makers have been supplying. Ubuntu is also pre-installed on some new netbooks, including the Dell Inspiron Mini 9.

Shuttleworth’s enthusiasm for netbooks is understandable: It’s in the netbook and server segments, not the traditional Ubuntu desktop space, that he anticipates making money from Ubuntu. “We could be cash positive if we concentrated on the servers and netbooks,” he said, adding: “we (i.e. Ubuntu) continue to require investment, but I consider this to be a good investment. I would be happy to continue to fund Ubuntu for the next three to five years.” By concentrating on netbooks and servers and abandoning the traditional desktop—which Ubuntu has no plans to do—the company could be profitable in two years, he estimated.

Ubuntu server doesn’t claim to be an enterprise Linux distribution to compete with Red Hat Enterprise Linux or SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, but for more mundane work it has found many friends in enterprises ranging from Google to the Wikimedia Foundation. It may well have to fight hard for market share in the netbook arena if Microsoft decides to offer some sort of cut-price Windows-based “netbook remix,” but overall Intrepid Ibex looks like a solid offering which will continue to enhance Ubuntu’s reputation on corporate networks throughout the world.

Paul Rubens
Paul Rubens
Paul Rubens is a technology journalist specializing in enterprise networking, security, storage, and virtualization. He has worked for international publications including The Financial Times, BBC, and The Economist, and is now based near Oxford, U.K. When not writing about technology Paul can usually be found playing or restoring pinball machines.

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