Canonical's Saucy Salamander gives Ubuntu some speed

The new version of Ubuntu will also come with the latest edition of OpenStack

Canonical continues to make the Ubuntu server edition speedier and more versatile in cloud environments.

The newest version of the Linux distribution, which will be ready for downloading October 17, comes with a faster installer as well as an updated lightweight container technology that can clone new environments more quickly.

The performance improvements in Ubuntu 13.10, code-named Saucy Salamander, are "part of the plan to ensure that Ubuntu becomes the best environment for developing, testing, and running production services in a cloud. Speed is one of those things people measure," said Mark Baker, Ubuntu server and cloud product manager.

Ubuntu 13.10 also comes with the latest edition of the OpenStack cloud platform, code-named Havana, which is also due to be released October 17.

The new Ubuntu will come with a fresh installer that is particularly efficient at loading the distribution over the network on bare metal servers, or as virtual machines in a cloud. The software can reduce the amount of time needed to install Ubuntu in a cloud to less than three minutes in many cases.

"We use a very slim cloud image that can be copied across the network very quickly," Baker said. "Rather than pulling over individual packages and building them in the traditional method, the installer pulls a pre-built image for the [cloud's] hypervisor."

Ubuntu 13.10 also includes improved support for Linux Containers (LXC), a container technology that provides a way to run multiple operating environments on a single machine.

"Containers are lighter than fully virtualized environments. If you want to make better uses of resources, you could run more containers on a machine than virtual machines (VMs)," Baker said. A container can be copied more rapidly than a full VM, according to Baker.

A single developer working on a laptop should consider using containers rather than a full VM because containers consume less resources. Multiple containers share certain resources, such as the operating system kernel, while maintaining full isolation from each other.

Ubuntu 13.10 will include OpenStack Havana, the latest version of the open source cloud platform. Havana comes with Heat, a new orchestration engine for managing complex OpenStack jobs, as well as the new Swift object storage engine.

Another important feature for the new version of OpenStack is that it will support virtualization hypervisors other than its natively supported open source KVM (kernel virtual machine). In particular, it can work with VMware's ESX hypervisor through the Nova plug-in.

"Increasingly we're seeing customers who want to run VMware in conjunction with their OpenStack deployments," Baker said. In some cases, organizations have to run workloads in VMware environments due to compliance issues, or they may need one particular tool that VMware offers, though they also wish to use OpenStack for development or other purposes.

By communicating with VMware's vSphere, OpenStack's Nova can initiate a new ESX VM within a VMware environment, stop the VM, and collect various metrics about the VM's performance.

Elsewhere in the updated Ubuntu stack is a newly updated Juju orchestration engine. Juju now allows multiple services to be bundled in the same VM. Instead of writing a script to assemble multiple programs within a VM, administrators can now assemble all the programs needed directly from within the Juju console.

Leading up to this release, Ubuntu 13.10 perhaps generated the most news around a feature it it did not include in the desktop edition, namely Mir, a graphics stack that Canonical planned as a replacement for the aging X Window System, but was dropped at the last minute. A version of Mir is still available for users to download and install themselves.

"There are still some outstanding quality issues that we want to resolve before we feel comfortable turning it on by default," wrote Canonical engineer Oliver Ries, inan e-mail to an Ubuntu development mailing list.

Ubuntu 13.10 is Canonical's final release of Ubuntu until the next Long Term Support (LTS) release of Ubuntu, version 14.04. Canonical supports LTS releases for five years, rather than the customary 9 months for other releases. Ubuntu is updated twice a year and LTS's are issued every 2 years.

For desktop users, 13.10 also includes Smarty Scope, which allows them to search within applications across their own hard drives, the Internet and e-commerce sites such as Amazon.com.

Ubuntu 13.10 will run on Linux kernel version 3.11.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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