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Ubuntu tries to squeeze out a virtual appliance edge with JeOS

JeOS, Canonical's stripped-down version of Ubuntu, is an alternative to established Linux distributions as the basis of hot -- but unproven -- virtual appliances.

Canonical Ltd. is set to release a stripped-down version of Ubuntu in late October for use in virtual appliances.

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Called JeOS (pronounced "juice"), the acronym stands for Just Enough Operating System, as Canonical has ripped out several software packages to streamline the OS for virtualization purposes. The subtractions include the open source database MySQL; the Common Unix Printing Layer, or CUPS; email; and LDAP functionality.

The upshot: Users vwill have access to a server OS that's 215 MB in size -- not too shabby considering a standard version of Ubuntu Server weighs in at roughly 700 MB. The streamlined OS means users can download virtual appliances faster, and run more of them per server, Canonical executives said at VMware Inc.'s annual VMworld conference.

In general, independent software vendors (ISVs) developing virtual appliances have the option of removing components from standard Linux distributions themselves, said senior analyst Tony Iams of Rye Brook, N.Y.-based Ideas International.

"However, they may prefer to leave that task to the distribution suppliers, because the suppliers have a lot more expertise and understanding about what components can be removed and what the dependencies are between components, etc.," he said.

In addition, Ubuntu JeOS also reduces the testing burden; users can start with a bare, pre-tested distribution and build their application on it from the ground up rather than incrementally pruning functionality from a fully loaded distribution until something breaks, Iams said.

JeOS will be available via the VMware Technology Network and is currently slated for only ISVs and OEMs. The approach is similar to another VMware partner, rPath, which packages Linux-based virtual appliances with ISV-specified applications using its rBuilder, technology.

Gerry Carr, the marketing manager for Canonical, told in an email that it would not make a lot of sense to make JeOS available beyond ISVs and OEMs just yet. "To avoid confusion and frustration, we will likely make [JeOS] available only through VADK [the VMware development kit] and restricted through our site so that the right people are getting it," Carr said. "We don't want people to think, 'Oooh, a lighter server version,' as it will not work in that way." Carr said Canonical will make a final decision on just how restricted it will keep JeOS closer to its release on Oct. 18.

Going after Red Hat, SUSE
Ideas' Iams said while there was nothing unique about an Ubuntu-based virtual appliance - Red Hat and Novell Inc. have similar strategies in place - Ubuntu's flexibility could give it an edge as virtual appliance technology takes off over the next couple of years. "There is a growing interest in virtual appliances," Iams said. "For lack of a better word, virtual appliances upend the role of system software."

With a virtual appliance, a user starts with an application and a workload he wants to host and then wrap a stripped-down operating system around it, Iams said. Rather than starting with the traditional model, which uses an OS and builds around it, Iams said the workload becomes the building block.

Canonical's pitch to ISVs is that Ubuntu is already light and flexible enough to outperform the established distributions, Iams said. "Ubuntu is trying to come out ahead and say they are more flexible than established distributions like Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE," he said.

That flexibility comes at the expense of well-defined support packages offered by Red Hat and Novell, Iams said. But, he added, Ubuntu's current popularity could provide an edge; though how much of one remains to be seen. Canonical has deferred the announcement of any additional JeOS functionalities or services until October.

What is known is that with JeOS, Canonical plans to extend its full- and self-service support plans to virtual appliances as well. With full-service Canonical packages, tests and updates an ISV application with Ubuntu Server. Self-service is similar: Canonical provides compatibility test suites for ISV applications and helps fix software issues to ensure that JeOS will run on Ubuntu.

Email Jack Loftus with your comments and suggestions.

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