Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Ubuntu Server Linux Wrapped in Latest OpenStack 

The quickest way to get your hands on a commercially supported variant of the new "Havana" OpenStack cloud orchestrator is to go to Canonical and get its Ubuntu Server 13.10, which was put out concurrently with that new OpenStack release this week.

The timing is no accident. Canonical has been doing two releases of its Ubuntu Server Linux variant each year for quite some time – one in April and another in October – and Red Hat follows a similar pattern with its Enterprise Linux, give or take. Given this, the OpenStack community synchronized its own release schedules to these two commercial Linuxes. (SUSE Linux, the other big Linux supplier, has a slightly different schedule.) Red Hat is bundling OpenStack with its RHEL variant, just as Canonical is doing with Ubuntu Server, but is much less aggressive about tying its Linux releases to OpenStack releases. At this point, Red Hat's spin on OpenStack will lag the release of code by the OpenStack community by anywhere from three to six months.

Canonical is trying to make hay while the clouds shine and get the jump on Red Hat, SUSE Linux, and other commercial OpenStack suppliers that package up OpenStack with other open source tools and wrap it with support services. The company is also putting out a pricing plan that makes it easy for companies to build clouds based on Ubuntu Server and OpenStack without having to play the server socket counting game.

Ubuntu Server 13.10, which is nicknamed Saucy Salamander because that is the way Canonical does things, is based on the Linux 3.11 kernel. Among other things, this kernel has support for 64-bit ARM processors and the Xen and KVM hypervisors running on them. Linux is supported on X86, Power, ARM, and mainframe processors. Canonical was an X86-only distribution for many years, but is on the front edge of the ARM server chip wedge and is hoping to ride up the ARM wave in the datacenter along with the popularity of OpenStack as a cloud controller. Ubuntu Server is the only commercial Linux among the majors that supports ARM; Red Hat is still doing it with its Fedora development release, not its commercial-grade RHEL. (That will change next year for sure when there is actually 64-bit ARM server iron in the field.)

The operating system presumably supports all of the latest X86 server chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, but the Ubuntu Server 13.10 release notes do not get into the details. The 3.11 kernel also includes a feature called Zswap, which compresses data in memory rather than swapping it out to persistent storage such as flash or disk drives. It also includes a client for the Lustre cluster file system.


Canonical has two different kinds of releases for its server operating systems. A Long Term Support, or LTS, release has five years of support including updates for new processors and peripherals as well as security patches and bug fixes. The other normal releases, of which Ubuntu Server 13.10 is one, have an 18 month support window, as shown above. The next LTS release comes with the 14.04 update next April, which is timed to come out with the "Icehouse" update to OpenStack. This will be a product that is supported until the middle of 2019, so you can bet that Canonical is very focused on getting that one rock solid.

Still, if companies newer iron or want to get going with the latest OpenStack, then Ubuntu Server 13.10 is one of the options. Mark Baker, server and cloud product manager at Canonical, tells EnterpriseTech that what Canonical is focused on is running really well on two-socket and four-socket X86 servers and getting aligned to future ARM machines and Hewlett-Packard's Moonshot microservers. And the company, which has 600 employees, is focused on making sure through its Landscape systems management tool that babysitting 1,000 servers is not 1,000 times as hard as managing one server.

Ubuntu Server 13.10 allows for VMware's ESXi hypervisor to be run as a hypervisor in conjunction with OpenStack clouds; KVM and Xen were already supported. And Linux containers, which partition machines in a more lightweight manner than a full-blown hypervisor, is getting some support as well. (Containers are virtual machines that share a kernel and a file system and are therefore not as isolated from each other as virtual machines separated from each other using a hypervisor.) Ubuntu Server 13.10 includes the alpha release of LXC 1.0 containers, the version that will eventually be cooked into Ubuntu Server 14.04 LTS.

Pricing For Clouds, Not Servers Or Sockets

Ahead of the launch of Ubuntu Server 13.10, Canonical has been testing out a new pricing model for cloud builders called availability zone pricing. The idea is to make it easy to pay for and consume OpenStack.

This availability zone price bundles together Ubuntu Server for each node on a cloud, plus a supported OpenStack license for various features of the controller, including such things as the Nova compute controller or the Swift object storage controller. The bundle also includes the rights to use the Landscape management tool, which a month ago was tweaked to be able to manage ARM servers as well as X86 iron, and an unlimited use license to put Ubuntu Server on top of the KVM hypervisor that Canonical has tuned up to work with OpenStack and its operating system. As the name suggests, this special bundle is tied to an availability zone, which means it is an OpenStack instance in one physical location.

The price for this bundle varies depending on the nodes installed on the cloud inside of one availability zone (meaning under the control of one OpenStack instance in one physical location), and it has 24x7 coverage. It costs $75,000 per year for a cloud with under 100 nodes. If you have between 100 and 500 nodes, it is $180,000 per year. Anything over 500 nodes, it costs $350,000 per year. Baker says that for most customers with 50 nodes or fewer, it makes sense to just get normal Ubuntu Advantage support contracts for the servers in a cloud. The top-end Advanced support contract for Ubuntu Server costs $1,200 per server node. But clearly at the high end above 500 servers, the discount is pretty steep at 42 percent. And as you add nodes above 500, each additional one is free.

This tells you that Canonical doesn't think that customers will set up availability zones that are much larger than 500 nodes.

At the moment, says Baker, the largest client that is working on an OpenStack implementation with Canonical is an unnamed university that is going to control 10,000 nodes. The largest commercial customer Canonical has for OpenStack has seven data centers, each with hundreds of nodes, and with multiple OpenStack control domains in each data center.

Canonical has found a certain amount of success with service providers and telecommunications firms, and several of them have multiple data centers with 500 servers each in their OpenStack clouds. Deutsche Telekom is one such customer, which has Canonical's rendition of OpenStack running the machines underneath its Business Marketplace public cloud. In some cases, says Baker, telcos are also using OpenStack internally to control the clusters that run their mobile applications.

The British Linux distributor is also seeing some interest from financial services companies, a little to Baker's surprise but also his delight. A typical cloud at a financial services firm using the combination of Ubuntu Server and OpenStack has between 200 and 500 server nodes.

Companies in other industries that are just getting started with building their clouds are usually doing their proofs of concept with between 80 and 100 nodes, says Baker.