Posts Tagged ‘Ubuntu’
I participated in a panel on the “Disruptive Effects of Open Source” at the Future World Symposium which discussed how OSS is impacting the software world, the degree of that change and the limitations.
The conference was held by the NMI whose charter is to represent and usher the interests of the electronics industry in the UK. It may not be something you think about on a daily basis but the UK has a pretty successful electronics sector with companies like ARM, Freescale, Imagination and others. Now that our political masters have got over their finance kick perhaps they’ll focus more attention on encouraging these technology sectors!
Anyway, with a electronics industry audience I was concerned to make my comments interesting and relevant. As became clear from some of the other presentations electronics companies face incredible opportunities where the number of devices and connectivity options between them are proliferating. However, there are also significant challenges as sectors converge with each other, and international competition hots up.
Glyn Moody chaired the discussion and my initial comments were to explain that Open Source is not a business model. Rather, it is a development and licensing model which brings many impacts and there are a variety of permutations for why you might use OSS or build a product using OSS. For example, in some cases organisations collaborate through OSS because there’s no value in differentiation, a “shared investment” model: a good example is Web 2.0 companies who collaborate to improve their infrastructure software. Another area is where you want to speed up the velocity of innovation. The value of OSS is that it can create a community of contributors and advocates: a good example is the web browser where Firefox has driven significant direct and spin-off innovation.
I wanted to make sure that the audience was clear that open software is not inimitable with proprietary or mixed solutions. Since I was addressing an audience that might not know Open Source well, and whose livelihoods depend on Intellectual Property (IP) I wanted to make sure that they were clear that OSS values this just as much. Furthermore, that OSS should be a key part of any technology companies strategy as it’s a leveller of competition.
We then talked about the various rights and responsibilities that working with OSS confers, the value and opportunities around communities. I sometimes feel that in those circumstances it can all seem too much if you go from the idea of a closed ecosystem immediately to the idea of developers being able to download any piece of code from the Internet and use it. So I focused my comments on the value of vendors acting as mediators between the open-ended nature of Open Source projects and the more controlled world of a procurement policy. I’m certainly not unbiased here, but a vendor can provide lots of value by mediating this world, helping customers to navigate it, providing legal and technical support – along with the protections and reassurance that companies like to have. I wanted to make sure the audience was clear that it doesn’t have to be the “wild west” when using OSS.
In the final section the questions explored the range, limitations and future directions for Open Source. Since we were getting close to lunch I wanted to provoke a reaction. My main statement was that eventually there will be a major Open Source solution and vendor in every technology segment. The direction of Linux over the previous ten years shows the manner in which OSS expands across all niches and we can see the impact it’s had in other segments such as databases and today we see it in mobile phones. And that in any segment where there is a sufficiently wide interest in sharing the cost of development, increasing the speed of innovation through a community or rebooting the competition then OSS would eventually take place. Consequently, I suggested that if there wasn’t an OSS competitor then a company should consider getting first mover advantage before their competitors do
I thought I’d come up with a controversial answer to the question and was quite surprised there wasn’t a strong reaction from the audience. Perhaps they considered me too tainted as an OSS vendor.
So there you go, I managed to learn something about the electronics industry and just about avoided telling them that they should Open Source everything immediately! I’m sure they’ll invite me again next year.
The new release of Landscape in time for the Ubuntu 10.04 LTS release attracted some nice articles in the Linux press. The majority of the features this time around are designed to help enterprise Ubuntu users who are managing a large number of systems. If you have hundreds of servers in your enterprise then you need to be able to see the “Landscape of your deployment” and react to issues quickly. There’s more detail on the main features in my previous Landscape post.
First up is Sean Michael Kerner at Linux Planet who did a nice write-up titled Canonical Landscape 1.5 Extends Ubuntu Linux Management for Enterprises on the release. He pays particular attention to the enterprise authentication and the LTS upgrades with a nice quote from Ken Drachnik:
“We find that most enterprises are using LTS’s, so as part of this release, we wanted to have the automated ability to just click a button and say ‘Yes, upgrade me’ and then Landscape would automatically download the packages and do the upgrade”
Over at The Register, Timothy Prickett Morgan focuses talks about the Cloud aspects of the new release in his article Canonical updates Landscape manager. With UEC a key part of our server product and the work we’re doing on Amazon EC2 there’s lots of interesting things that Landscape can do to help users manage Ubuntu in these environments.
Finally, Joe Panettieri at WorksWithU discusses Landscape 1.5: The Implications for Ubuntu Customers and Partners where he summarises the key elements of the release and considers how the Amazon EC2 management might be of interest to partners. He specifically asks for examples of how Landscape is being successful with corporate customers. And as if by magic we can point him at this case study by PlusServer AG which we just put up, and it’s definitely worth a read!
We released a new version of Landscape our management service for Ubuntu last week. There’s a slew of new features including server templates, simple upgrades and enterprise authentication support. Whether you’re managing a few systems or as many as Google the new features make system administration simpler!
Landscape’s objective is to make managing and monitoring hundreds of Ubuntu systems as easy as looking after one. Whether you’re managing some Ubuntu desktops, or looking after a Web server farm Landscape lowers the complexity of administering those systems: no-one wants to apply patches to hundreds of machines manually! For IT managers this means that Landscape makes system administrators more effective and efficient. Landscape also ensures that deployed Ubuntu systems are secure with maintenance patches and upgrades.
Landscape is provided as a software service so every six months Canonical releases a new version that is available to all subscribers. There’s also an on-site version available to customers that have security policies or regulations that prevent them using a SaaS management platform. In line with Ubuntu 10.04 the main features of the new version are:
Many sites have sets of servers that do similar jobs, for example “web serving“. Ideally you want those machines to have the same set-up reducing management overhead.
The ability to create templates of the packages installed on a particular system and then apply those to different machines makes it easy to replicate a standard install. It also ensures that you maintain consistent profiles across your systems as time goes by. Finally, if you need to re-provision or expand resources you can use profiles to ensure it’s a repeatable process. Package Profiles is really great for managing configurations.
If you’re managing more that a handful of Ubuntu systems then doing upgrades is going to take a lot of time. Whether that’s every six months in time with the standard releases, or every two years for the LTS releases, it’s a significant commitment. To reduce that overhead you can now do upgrades between releases using Landscape.
Upgrades between releases are always complex so this doesn’t remove the need for backups and careful attention. Nonetheless, if you’ve used Package Profiles, it will be easier to test an upgrade on a test system and then when you’re happy apply it to all the deployed systems using the same package profile. Rather than having to access every machine and do the process by hand you can upgrade a group at a time.
Enterprises commonly have a corporate standard for authentication such as LDAP or on a Microsoft Windows network Active Directory. The new version of LDS connects to these systems authenticating administrators from the existing authentication system. This ensures that customers can simplify their authentication set-up and enforce authorisation from a single corporate directory.
What software will Canonical provide support for? That’s probably one of the questions you were asking if you read my previous post about commercial service subscriptions and bug resolution. Or perhaps not, but it’s a rhetorical device that suits me for this post!
Generally speaking for an application to be supported as part of a service subscription it has to be within the Main repository. This is because applications within the Main repository receive public maintenance (bug fixes and security updates) for the life-cycle of the release.
In order for an application to move into Main it goes through a stringent security and quality assurance assessment. As part of this review Canonical’s engineers inspect the code and ensure that they are able to maintain it. Consequently, those engineers also provide bug-fixes and maintenance for Canonical customers.
I find it interesting that generally the ability to maintain and fix code is one type of developer skill-set, while writing new features is a different one. Colin Watson recently told me that an early manager had told him that there are two types of developers in the world, those that create things and those that finish them off. Intuitively that feels right to me and by definition a distribution is focused on the latter where integration, polish and quality assurance rule.
The second issue is how do you know which software is covered within the Ubuntu service that you subscribed to? Some Linux distributions deal with this by covering all the software that they physically ship to customers. However, in Ubuntu’s case most users receive the software electronically so this doesn’t work. Second, the Main archive and seeds are relatively fixed and don’t map well to a subscription service for a particular target market. Essentially this means it’s hard to reflect the services within the technology.
Consequently, when a customer purchases a particular service subscription they receive a Service Description. This describes the scope of support, the bug-fixing coverage, the legal indemnification, the software components covered and the response levels. For example, a consumer desktop service wouldn’t cover complex integration problems with a Microsoft Windows network, while this would be critical for a corporate subscription designed for customers with legacy networks. Effectively, the description tries to describe the types of use-cases and categories that are covered.
I hope this has given a bit of insight into how Canonical does support and bug-fixes for our customers.
If you have a commercial subscription service for Ubuntu how do we prioritise fixing bugs? This was at the heart of a conversation I had with a customer recently.
For business users Ubuntu’s advantage is often flexibility. Adding another system to the data centre is simply a matter of starting it up. This contrasts with proprietary UNIX and the other commercial Linux vendors where license management creates deployment friction.
Nonetheless, it’s hardly “free” if you can’t use the software. And Ubuntu, like all software, has bugs and issues – particularly when you’re using it in a complex environment. To resolve these issues professional users need access to expertise when there’s an issue.
In the proprietary world the license agreement commonly includes support so the customer presents the bug and they should get a resolution.
Ubuntu’s free nature presents a more nuanced picture. Every Ubuntu user is able (and encouraged) to put bugs into Launchpad. Many of these bugs will be resolved by Ubuntu community developers or Canonical’s developers as we work on the next release of Ubuntu.
Nonetheless, any individual bug is a needle in a haystack. Ubuntu receives vast numbers of bugs from our user-base so there’s no guarantee that any individual bug will get a response or a resolution. There’s inherently no prioritisation of one user over another as all members of the Open Source community are equal. Additionally, bugs are generally resolved in the version of Ubuntu under development rather than the one that the problem is reported against. The need for certainty of response and resolution is the value of a formal relationship with Canonical.
A service agreement means that the customers bugs are guaranteed a response, that the issue will be dealt with by an Ubuntu expert and that the issue will be prioritised. For Canonical engineers customer bugs are prioritised over general development work and are split into categories by urgency.
Initially when the customer presents the case the GSS (Global Support & Services) team triage it and where possible come up with an immediate workaround. If the bug requires code development then it is escalated to the appropriate engineering group. This is where a resolution for the version of Ubuntu that the customer is using is created. This is generally delivered to the customer as a custom package for them to use immediately. The resolution is then integrated into the version of Ubuntu under development so that there won’t be a regression when the customer upgrades to the next release.
So flexibility is the Ubuntu advantage, and the advantage of working with Canonical is there’s a canonical resource for Ubuntu expertise.
This week I’ve been in China talking about Ubuntu 10.04 and learning how Ubuntu is used. I’ve learned alot and it’s been a great opportunity to encourage businesses and partners to extend their use of Open Source (Ubuntu in particular!). I’ve really enjoyed this trip and it’s been fantastic to meet so many new people.
Like everyone else I’ve been struck by the energy in China. Everything from the traffic to the rate of technology change is done at full pace. China is a country that is growing up rapidly, across the board there’s great confidence and a total focus on how to grow both in domestic markets and in global trade.
It’s a country with significant divides between the urban and rural communities. One project we’ve been working on is to provide a PC that can be used in rural communities and education. The objective is to provide a platform for those groups to improve their lives, careers and education. The team has done a fantastic job and it’s great to see Ubuntu being part of this project.
I’ve come away convinced that Open Source is an ideal solution for many of the different challenges. Of course it’s cheaper than proprietary solutions and that has significant impact. But, more importantly Open Source and Ubuntu can deliver tailored solutions from the desktop through to the server and into the Cloud. This ability to fit into many niches as a flexible solution and help drive innovation is a key advantage for Ubuntu users.
I’d like to thank Richard, ZengPeng and Juergen for showing me around and Fanny Yeh for helping me navigate the region (particularly with the volcanic clouds!)
Wavesat is using the Bazaar version control system for commercial development making it simpler and easier for their teams to collaborate around the world. It’s a great example of Open Source delivering cost savings and innovation to business users. We’ve recently put up a case study that gives more details.
Bazaar (Bzr) is a distributed version control system. It’s an essential tool for developers: there’s a great guide to revision control on betterexplained.com. When people state that there’s no innovation in Open Source, distributed revision control is one of the examples that counters this.
Bazaar is particularly well suited to distributed development because the concept is built-in right from the start. Perhaps it’s testament to the open source development process which is by its nature distributed. For a business like Wavesat that has developers based in different locations this means they can be more efficient.
Canonical sponsors the development of Bazaar because distributed revision control is critical in Open Source development. But, it’s also something that companies can benefit from so we provide commercial services for Bazaar. This consists of helping organisations migrate, along with providing support and training. For organisations with an existing version control system such as CVS or Perforce we help with the migration to a new work-flow using Bazaar on Linux (Ubuntu, RHEL, SLES) or a legacy operating system such as Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac. Check out the case study for more information.