In contrast to last April's 8.04 Long Term Support (LTS) edition, which includes support for five years, version 8.10 is an intermediate release with the latest innovations but only 18 months of support, according to Canonical's planned development cycle.
Ubuntu's server edition includes the open source VMbuilder, a Web-based tool that enables users to create and deploy virtual machines quickly and directly, according to Steve George, Canonical's corporate services director. VMbuilder creates virtual machine appliances based on an optimized and stripped-down OS known as JeOS, or Just enough Operating System, that can be easily customized, speeding cloud deployments and making data centers more dynamic, he said.
In addition, Canonical has added integration to make it easier to run its KVM-based virtual machines as guests on Xen-based hypervisors. And it has enhanced KVM's own capabilities, for example, enabling users to add more memory or virtual machines without shutting down, George said.
Ubuntu 8.10 also includes a free client version of Landscape Manager, Ubuntu's systems management and monitoring application. The Landscape client, which shows performance statistics for a single machine, should provide incentive for users to purchase the full offering, which costs $150 per user, he said.
Finally, Ubuntu 8.10 includes significant development and security improvements. For starters, version 8.10 includes Apache Tomcat 6.0 and OpenJDK (Java Development Kit) programming tools on the 8.10 installation CD. Tomcat and OpenJDK also are included in Ubuntu support. The closer integration of these products will help data centers because Apache is a lightweight alternative to a full J2EE stack and is easier to use and deploy, George said.
In addition, Ubuntu can now run Java containers, which makes it easier for data centers to develop and deploy Java applications, more than half of which are created internally, George said.
Finally, Ubuntu has beefed up security by enabling administrators to set up private user directories that limit data access according to a user's privileges, leaving remaining data encrypted. The private directories also prevent a hacker from accessing data after a break-in, adding another level of protection, he said.Game changer or low-hanging fruit?
Collectively, these improvements in 8.10 are aimed at large data centers which are undergoing virtualization and cloud deployments, George said.
"Our goal is to make servers easy to use and install and quick and efficient to use in these environments," he said.
Tony Iams, an analyst with Rye Brook, N.Y.-based Ideas International Inc., said the incremental release has useful productivity improvements but, as intended, is not a game changer.
The virtualization improvements, including the use of the JeOS OS to create virtual appliances, could shift the way applications are delivered, he said. Ubuntu has been "pretty aggressive" with virtualization innovation, but it's unclear if it will pursue the costly features required in the enterprise space such as high availability, live migration and disaster recovery, he said. Integration with storage and networking is another hurdle at the enterprise level, he added.
"Ubuntu's main objective appears to be a low-hanging-fruit server product that complements their strong desktop," Iams said.
The Apache integration is "expected these days" and is a prerequisite for any serious Web application platform, he said.
"Apache is better out of the box and supported as a feature," Iams said. "This is how Linux got started, hand in hand with Apache, at the end of the network platform."