It looks like astronaut and tech magnate Mark Shuttleworth's investment in the Ubuntu commercial Linux distribution is about to pay off. Ubuntu is taking off like a rocket, and the sale of Novell to Attachmate plus the higher prices Red Hat is charging for its Enterprise Linux 6 are probably going to fuel Ubuntu's adoption even more in the data centers of the world.
The third Long Term Support release, Ubuntu 10.04, came out in April and seems to have been a turning point for the Ubuntu distribution. With that release, Canonical demonstrated that it could tame the Debian variant of Linux and put together a polished desktop and server operating system with commercial-grade support options like those available through Red Hat and Novell. On the server front, the server variant of the 10.04 LTS release had all of the new or impending x64 processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices baked into it as well as a fully integrated variant of the Eucalyptus cloud framework for creating cloudy infrastructure for applications to romp around.
Neil Levine, vice president of corporate services at Canonical, said that the initial LTS release, 6.06, put a stake in the ground, establishing the five-year support guarantee for servers and three-year term for desktops. LTS 8.04 saw a healthy uptake among corporations looking for alternatives to Solaris, RHEL, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, and even Windows sometimes and proved the quality of the distro that Canonical could bring to market. With the 10.04 LTS release, Canonical proved to companies that the two-year cadence for new LTS releases was real and that Ubuntu could be trusted to run with the big boys.
So how is Canonical doing money-wise now that 10.04 LTS has been out for seven months? Stellar, apparently.
"We see a great, great year financially for my division," Levine told El Reg in an interview. The prior two LTS releases as well as the interim releases are being deployed by programmers and system administrators as companies build out applications - the same way that proprietary minicomputers, Unix machines, and Windows boxes all made their way into the data center in their successive waves over the past three decades. "When people realize they have a hundred servers running Ubuntu, they realize they need a commercial relationship with Canonical."
And thus, for the past three calendar quarters, the number of support contracts for Ubuntu's desktop and server distributions collectively have been doubling each quarter. Levine is projecting a three-fold increase in support revenues at Canonical in the company's current fiscal year, which ends in March 2011. Interestingly, the server revenue stream is growing a lot faster these days than the overall support contract revenue growth, says Levine, and is approaching a 50-50 split.
Server support contracts cost a lot more and are therefore driving that revenue growth. This was the long-term plan that Shuttleworth always had, of course. Step One: Build a Windows alternative for desktops, seed the market with Ubuntu enthusiasts. Step Two: Build a Unix and Windows alternative for servers, seed the market with more enthusiasts. Step Three: Profits!
As you know, Canonical does not put call-home programs in its Ubuntu Server editions, so it actually is clueless how many people are using Ubuntu Server. And being a private company, it is certainly not going to share the revenue numbers and customer counts it has for companies that have bought Ubuntu Server support contracts. But Levine did provide El Reg with some outside data from Netcraft, the Web server counters, to show how Ubuntu is doing at least as well as El Reg's world-famous PARIS Vulture 1 paper spaceplane.
Ubuntu has showed journalists Netcraft trend data on Linux-based hosts worldwide, but the Linux variant they use to host one or more Web sites.
The Netcraft data counts up the total hosts supported by a Web server. Rd hat is flatlining out there on the Intertubes as far as Web site count is concerned, and in the past several months, Ubuntu has hockey-sticked so aggressively that if this was an actual hockey game Canonical would be called for high sticking.
You want to see some stratosphere? Then you would need to take a look at the same data for just the EMEA Web server space.
Novell's SUSE Linux has done better than RHEL for Web serving because it was at least a European distro, even after Novell bought it. But after a very aggressive ramp since the second Ubuntu Server LTS release in 2008, Canonical's Linux reached parity with RHEL and SLES in terms of Web site count and in the past two months has exploded almost straight up.
Maybe Attachmate should have bought Canonical?
When Ubuntu Server 10.04 LTS was launched back in April, Levine said that as far as Canonical could tell from watching unique IP addresses hitting its image repository the first time customers fired up its Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud variant, there were 12,000 clouds running its code. (UEC embeds the Eucalyptus framework into the server edition for deploying Xen or KVM virtual machines for hosting virtual server images in a manner that is compatible with Amazon's EC2 compute cloud.) Obviously, the great majority of those UEC clouds were prototypes and proofs-of-concepts, but it is nonetheless a very large number. Levine says that since 10.04 LTS came out in April, the monthly install rate looks to be around 1,200, which means by the end of this year, another 10,000 or so clouds will be fired up.
Even though Canonical will be putting in support for the OpenStack alternative to Eucalyptus with the 11.04 release next year, Levine said that Eucalyptus was the first to market and was more established and is therefore still in demand. It will be interesting to see if over the next few years, Eucalyptus suffers the same fate as the Xen hypervisor, which has been usurped by KVM for both Red Hat and Canonical in their Linux distros.
Levine cautions against such analogies, saying that OpenStack and Eucalyptus "are addressing very different parts of the market." Canonical's philosophy is that whatever customers want to use to build clouds, it wants them to do it with Ubuntu, not RHEL or SLES.
In a related announcement, Canonical and open source virtualization tool maker Convirture are teaming up to take on the ESX Server hypervisor and vCenter console combination from VMware, offering a fully open source alternative. While Canonical has the Landscape tool for managing server images and Ubuntu has the libvirt and virt-manager tools for managing virtual machines, the latter tools are more like applets than they are virtualization management consoles.
And so, Canonical has added the ConVirt 2.0 Open Source console to the Ubuntu Partner Repository, which is the first step perhaps to including it in the full Ubuntu distribution in the future like the Eucalyptus framework is now. ConVirt is a console for provisioning, managing, and monitoring Xen and KVM virtual machines, and as El Reg already told you back in July, it now comes in an Enterprise Edition that has some closed-source features that Ubuntu shops probably want. We're talking about timetable-based provisioning and decommissioning of VMs; role-based access control for admins and multi-tenant security; a command line interface and programmable APIs; high availability and disaster recovery overlays for the Xen and KVM hypervisors; resource limiting; a virtual appliance catalog for self-service VM deployment; and alerting and notification features to bug admins.
If Canonical wanted to do something interesting, it would buy Convirture and merge the Enterprise version of ConVirt 2.0 with its Landscape management tool and embed the open source version in Ubuntu Server. Clearly, Shuttleworth has the money, after shelling out $31.5m for a New York apartment. ®