New Canonical Tool Tackles 'Hyperscale' Data Centers

In the run-up to the release of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Linux later this month, Canonical is offering its new "Metal-as-a-Service" provisioning and management tool for customers who want to test it out with the new Ubuntu beta.

The MaaS tool, a component of Ubuntu Server 12.04, helps IT administrators configure and manage large-scale server farms -- including those used to provide cloud computing services.

Businesses and cloud service providers today are wrestling with what some are calling "hyperscale" data centers running tightly packed racks of thousands of nodes, especially those running ARM and Atom CPUs.

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"This is taking data center density to extraordinary levels," said Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth in an interview. The cost of provisioning and managing CPU nodes in such facilities is becoming a major challenge for IT, and the MaaS toolset is designed to address those issues, said Shuttleworth, who leads Canonical product design and development.

The MaaS tools, for example, help automate the configuration, testing and maintenance of CPU-packed rack systems, including firmware updates, burn-in testing and performance evaluation, among other chores. The tools also help IT manage physical servers as a cloud-like resource, dynamically allocating CPU nodes to processing workloads and services as needed.

The MaaS tools can coordinate tasks between physical servers and cloud services. Shuttleworth, for example, said the same tools could be used for managing resources for local development work, then software testing in the cloud, then running the software in production on physical servers -- a common scenario in many data centers today.

"This unification of these different worlds … is what's really interesting here," Shuttleworth said.

Such flexibility is needed as businesses deploy infrastructure systems such as Hadoop for big data, OpenStack and CloudStack Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Cloud Foundry Platform-as-a-Service and other scalable services.

Shuttleworth pointed to one e-commerce Ubuntu user with 5,000 servers that is running Hadoop for big data applications as the type of IT operation that will benefit from Metal-as-a-Service.

Canonical is slated to release the 12.04 (for April 2012) edition of Ubuntu LTS (Long Term Support) by the end of this month. While Canonical produces new releases of Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server every six months, new releases of Ubuntu LTS, which is targeted at enterprise applications, are produced only every two years to ensure stability.

Canonical released the second and final beta version of Ubuntu LTS 12.04 late last month.