UPDATED 11:00 EDT / DECEMBER 09 2014

Canonical restructures Ubuntu in mobile mode; Microsoft is first partner

Ubuntu circle of friendsDramatizing the impact that mobile development and the cloud are having on traditional infrastructure software, Canonical, Ltd. today is announcing a version of its popular Ubuntu distribution that features transactional updates and a tiny core server image with configurable packages housed in a secure cloud.

Canonical, which is the largest provider of Ubuntu distributions for cloud infrastructure services, said the new “Snappy Ubuntu Core” is designed specifically for the proliferating use of Docker containers, the vast majority of which use Ubuntu as the base operating system. Docker is the first framework for Ubuntu Core. The combination of Ubuntu Core and Docker enables developers to quickly create applications that can be deployed to multiple platforms without the need for lengthy security checks or loss of version control.

“Ubuntu Core is the smallest, leanest Ubuntu ever, perfect for ultra-dense computing in cloud container farms,” the company said in a press release. In a twist that’s sure to prompt a double-take from many industry veterans, Canonical chose the Azure cloud from longtime Linux foe Microsoft as its first deployment platform. “Microsoft loves Linux,” said Bob Kelly, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft, in a prepared statement.

“Microsoft has been a terrific steward of Ubuntu,” said Dustin Kirkland, product manager for Ubuntu Core, in an interview. “We have a very tight relationship.” The deal with Microsoft is exclusive for ”a couple of weeks,” after which Ubuntu Core is expected to be available on all public clouds that currently support the operating system.

One image at a time


Transactional updating is a software distribution technique that should be familiar to any smart phone user. Instead of requiring users to download and install dozens of individual packages each time an application is updated, integration is done at the server level and downloaded as an entire image. The process makes it easier to distribute updates automatically across multiple platforms and provides for rollback if needed.

In the case of Ubuntu Core, the underlying operating system lives in a read-only disk partition confined by Canonical’s AppArmor kernel security system, which operates at the media access layer. Isolating applications in containers minimizes security risks and cuts installation time. The mobile version of Ubuntu was adapted for transactional updates two years ago, Kirkland said. This new announcement extends the concept to servers and workstations.

“We’ve taken the opportunity to think about and redesign the package experience for users in the cloud, and that hasn’t been touched in 20 years of Ubuntu history,” Kirkland said.

Ubuntu Core is “the smallest set of functions that we can call Ubuntu,” he added. The term “Snappy” refers to services the user chooses to deploy, which are combined on the server as a single image. The resulting pre-configured version of Ubuntu can be distributed simultaneously on a large scale, with a framework in place that prevents tampering and ensures that the same image is distributed everywhere. The approach is consistent with the way most developers deploy Docker containers.

While the development sounds like a bonus for existing Ubuntu users, Kirkland said it’s unlikely many will migrate from a legacy environment to a transactional one. While not providing specifics, he said, “I’d expect interested parties to use Snappy to start anew. Migrating from existing Ubuntu is not really something that’s in our scope.”

Ubuntu Core is now available on Microsoft’s Azure cloud. Users can download a Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) version that installs on any workstation. Ubuntu Core is also featured in the Qemu community advent calendar.

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