With new Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud (EUC) capabilities and tools now fully integrated into its upcoming Ubuntu 9.10 Server Edition operating system, Linux vendor Ubuntu is getting ready to spread the benefits and promise of cloud computing to corporate users, VARs and resellers.

Scheduled for general release and free download on Oct. 29, the latest version of Ubuntu Linux comes with built-in APIs for the creation of cloud computing infrastructures based on the APIs used for Amazon Inc.’s popular and growing EC2 cloud offering.

For customers, VARs and resellers, that means that users and system integrators will be able to have an easier time creating, deploying and managing private, behind-the-firewall clouds for users who want to explore its options and possibilities. A key to Ubuntu’s new OS is that by providing the tools to build fully-featured private clouds for users, it could help encourage their spread by many businesses that are currently prevented from using public clouds today due to security and regulatory issues surrounding their critical data.

Until the official release, the beta version of the new OS is available as a free download.
For VARs and resellers, the upcoming Ubuntu product is good news, said Cole Crawford,   CTO for Cary, N.C.-based IT integrator and commercial open source vendor Autonomic Resources, which does most of its business with federal government clients.

"We absolutely see the value in all players moving to this cloud space," Crawford said. "I think the term ‘cloud’ may be overhyped, but the value and the functionality may not be overhyped. We see the functionality being of value and we see customers wanting to move in that direction."

What is a harder choice for users, he said, is whether to go with Ubuntu or to choose a more widely-known enterprise Linux vendor. "Red Hat or Novell are a safe choice, but … there are certain circumstances where Ubuntu can be the right operating system for a corporation or a federal agency."

A key for that to happen, he said, is that Ubuntu must achieve a critical government security certification – Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2 – that will make it usable by security-critical government agencies. "That would make it more useful to offer to government and commercial clients," Crawford said. That process is under discussion, he said. "Achieving that certification will definitely help companies and federal agencies across the board to be more comfortable with Canonical [Ltd., the company that provides commercial support for Ubuntu] and Linux."

Crawford said security concerns with cloud environments will continue to be an issue until the environments can be certified as compliant with FIPS 140-2 and other standards, including international Common Criteria Evaluation Assurance Level (EAL) certifications. "Other Linux distributions have been EAL- 4 certified, so it will be hard to talk about products that aren’t using it," Crawford said. "I think that everyone will feel better about cloud computing when it is EAL-4 certified."

At the same time, coming up with a cloud-ready operating system in the marketplace against market leaders Red Hat and Novell’s SUSE Linux does make sense for Ubuntu and Canonical, Crawford said. "The whole all-encompassing [operating system] that Canonical brings to the table is what sets them apart," including constant improvements and additions to the core Linux kernel.

Michael E. Dortch, director of research for San Francisco-based IT information gathering and consulting firm Focus, called Ubuntu’s new cloud-ready operating system "a very key thing" because it makes the creation and use of private clouds much more affordable and doable for businesses.

"All customers talk about their needs for security and availability and whether they can have that while using the cloud," Dortch said. "There’s a direct correlation between the criticality of their info and the IT resources users put in the cloud, as well as the level at which they worry about those resources becoming unavailable" if the cloud loses connectivity.

That’s where the benefits of having a private cloud, which you run and maintain within your own corporate firewalls and ultimately protect and control, are huge, Dortch said.

"And the larger users have already started to build what are effectively private clouds," he said. "Only larger companies have been able to afford it until now. If you lower the cost of entry you make the market more appealing to users and that could likely include smaller and mid-sized users who haven’t adopted the public cloud but who haven’t found easy to deploy and affordable private clouds yet.".

Steve George, director of corporate services for London-based Canonical, said the new version of Ubuntu’s server operating system also marks a new channel focus for the companies.

"The open source community and open source businesses have not traditionally focused a lot on the channel and reaching out," George said. "At Canonical, when we think about how we reach out to customers, we think of working with the channel or partner companies as being a key aspect. There’s a very straightforward reason for that. Canonical is essentially an engineering company, so for us to reach out to customers on the strength of our own people just isn’t possible."

Todd R. Weiss is an award-winning technology journalist and freelance writer who worked as a staff reporter for Computerworld.com from 2000 to 2008. He spends his spare time working on a book about an unheralded member of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and watching classic Humphrey Bogart movies. Follow him on Twitter @TechManTalking.