Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cloud computing made simple

It has been a truly amazing year since we embarked on our "cloud" journey at Ubuntu, hence I thought I'd review some of the highlights.

We started the journey back in 2008 when Mark Shuttleworth announced our commitment to providing cloud technology to our users. At that time, the cloud world was already in a state of growing confusion, so we adopted an approach of :-

  • make the cloud simple.
  • focus on one layer of the computing stack (infrastructure) to begin with.
  • give our users real technology not promises.
  • help drive standardisation (a key requirements of this shift towards a service world) by adopted public defacto standards.
  • work with leading partners in this growing industry.
  • provide open source systems to avoid lock-in issues.
  • actively work to mitigate risks and concerns over cloud by giving our users options.

Hence, in April'09 as part of Ubuntu 9.04 we launched our hybrid cloud strategy.

Our approach was based around the adoption of Amazon EC2 / S3 & EBS as the public defacto standard rather than the creation of some new APIs (there's too many already).

We provided Ubuntu images for use on Amazon EC2 (public cloud) and the technology to build your own private cloud (known as Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud) that matched the same APIs of Amazon. We also added management tools which could cross both public and private domains because of our adoption of a standard API set.

For 9.10 we significantly improved the robustness and ease of setting up a private cloud (Mark built his own several node system in under 25 mins from bare metal). We provided the base for an application store, improved the management capabilities of Landscape and the features of UEC grew extensively. We also launched training, consultancy and support services for the cloud and a JumpStart program to help companies move into the cloud quickly.

During this time we've worked closely with many partners, I'll mention a few (more details can be found on the Ubuntu Cloud site) :-

  • Eucalyptus whose open source technology we adopted into the distribution as a core part of Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud.
  • Intel's Cloud Builder program to provide best practices on how to create a private cloud using UEC. I'd strongly recommend reading the whitepaper.
  • RightScale & CohesiveFT to provide best of breed public management tools alongside our own Landscape system.
  • Dell, who will offer a range of pre-built clouds using a series of ‘blueprint’ configurations that have been optimised for different use cases and scale. These will include PowerEdge-C hardware, UEC software and full technical support.

In one year, we've made cloud simple for our users. We've brought our "Linux for Humans" philosophy into the cloud by getting rid of complexity, confusion and myth.

If you want to get into cloud, then we offer :-

  • Simple Choices: You can have either private, public or hybrid (i.e. public + private) infrastructure clouds.
  • Simple Setup: If you want to build a private cloud, then Ubuntu makes the set-up ridiculously easy. You can be up and running with your own cloud in minutes. Along with with our community documentation covering CD installation and more advanced options, you can also find detailed information on how to build a cloud through Intel's cloud builder program. However, if building a cloud still sounds too daunting then Dell offers pre-built, fully configured and supported private clouds.
  • Simple Management: You can use the same tools for both your private and public clouds because we've standardised around a common set of APIs. There's no need to learn one set of systems for private and another for public.
  • Simple Bursting: Since we provide common machine images which run on both public and private cloud offerings combined with standardised APIs, then the process of moving infrastructure and combining both private and public clouds is ... simpler.
  • Enterprise Help: If you still need help then we offer it, including 24x7 support and a jumpstart program to get your company into the cloud.
  • Open source: UEC, the Ubuntu machine images and all the basic tools are open sourced. We're committed to providing open source systems and following through on a genuine open source approach i.e. the system is open source and free and so are all the security patches and version upgrades.

The results of this year have been very encouraging. We recently estimated that there are now over 7,000 private clouds built with UEC, however with 7% of users in our annual Ubuntu User Survey saying that they have built a UEC cloud, the true figure might be very much higher. It was great to hear that almost 70% of users felt Ubuntu was a viable platform for the cloud but there were several surprising statistics including :-

  • 54% were using the cloud in some form or another (software, platform or infrastructure). However giving the fuzziness of the term cloud, this can only be seen as a signal of intent to use online services.
  • Only 10% had used public cloud providers (such as Amazon) for infrastructure. What was quite remarkable was that given the relatively recent availability of UEC, almost as many people had built private clouds as had used public cloud providers.
  • 60% felt that the use of private cloud was more important to their organisation, 25% thought that both private and public was of equal importance whilst only 15% felt that public cloud was the most important.

Whilst this survey was targetted at Ubuntu users, the data we receive from external sources suggest that Ubuntu is becoming the dominant operating system for consumers of the infrastructure cloud space. Even a simple ranking of search terms using Google's Insight around cloud computing show how significant a player Ubuntu is.

Whilst this is great news, what really pleases me is that we're making cloud simple and real for organisations and listening to what they need. We're getting away from the confusion over cloud, the tireless consultant drivel over whether private cloud is cloud computing and the endless pontifications and forums debating vague futures. Instead, we're giving real people, real technology which does exactly what they want.

Over the next year we're going to be tackling issues around creating competitive marketplaces (i.e. more choice for our users), simplfying self-service IT capabilities and orchestration and providing a wide range of open source stacks and platforms to use in the cloud.

We're going to continue to drive down this path of commoditisation by providing common workloads for the cloud (the same as we've been doing for server) and helping businesses to standardise that which is just cost of doing business.

Regardless of any attempts to badge "cloud" as just a more advanced flavour of virtualisation or describe it as "not real yet" by various late vendors, we will be doing our best to bust the various "cloud" myths and push the industry towards competitive marketplaces of computer utilities through defacto standardisation.

Commoditise! Commoditise! Commoditise!

I'm also delighted about our partners successes, with RightScale passing the million server mark, Amazon's continual growth and leadership with the introduction of spot markets, Dell's outstanding move to make cloud mainstream, Intel's push to make cloud easier & Eucalyptus' continued adoption and the appointment of Marten Mickos as CEO.

P.S. if you want to keep track of what's happening with Ubuntu in the cloud, a good place to start is our cloud blog or following our twitter feed, ubuntucloud.