Mark Shuttleworth's eagerness to declare victory over RHEL notwithstanding, it's clear that Ubuntu still has a lot of growing to do in the server room. But it came one step closer to becoming a leader on that front recently with the introduction of official Ubuntu cloud images to Amazon's EC2 interface. Here are the details, and what they say about where Ubuntu may be headed in the cloud.

First, though, let's note the sobering facts. As the results of Canonical's most recent survey of Ubuntu Server users demonstrated last month, Ubuntu does not yet have the foothold in the cloud niche that its developers might like -- or at least, that's what I was inclined to gather from the report that most users opted not to answer the question regarding Ubuntu's viability as a platform for cloud computing.

By no means, of course, is this to say that Ubuntu is failing on the cloud front. On the contrary -- Canonical has clearly been devoting a lot of resources to this area, and it's paying off in the form of more, and more user-friendly, features. But by most indications the battle remains an uphill one for Ubuntu and the cloud.

Ubuntu and EC2

Canonical's latest achievement in the realm of the cloud was the recent addition of officially supported Ubuntu Cloud Guest images to the Amazon EC2 management console.

On the surface, this doesn't change much technically -- it's already long been possible to deploy Ubuntu-based cloud instances via EC2 -- but this enhancement will at least make things a bit more user-friendly. It may also help Ubuntu gain greater mind share, which is never a bad thing.

And perhaps most importantly, as Canonical pointed out, the use of official images ensures that cloud-based Ubuntu systems receive the same support and updates as those deployed elsewhere. That's important to IT staff with a lot of systems to manage.

Other Areas for Growth

While the EC2 news is certainly good for Canonical and its customers -- not to mention the broader group of users and channel partners who would benefit from an increased Ubuntu presence in the IT world writ-large -- it reflects only a fraction of the growth area for Ubuntu in the cloud. EC2 is only part of the cloud equation, and it's also one where Ubuntu has already made strong inroads.

Going forward, what would really signal success for Canonical would be greater deployment of Ubuntu within private clouds. This is the front where Canonical has arguably been dumping its greatest share of development resources lately, with strong efforts to enhance OpenStack and related services that will prove most appealing to users interested in building their own clouds.

At the same time, increasing Ubuntu adoption for private clouds is perhaps a more lucrative objective than expanding the operating system's deployment in EC2 (not that the latter hurts Canonical any), since the biggest fish in the industry -- and the ones potentially interested in the largest support contracts with Canonical -- are more likely to be those with serious private-cloud infrastructures.

Nonetheless, Canonical has a lot to look forward to on the horizon with regard to Ubuntu and the cloud, especially with the upcoming release of Ubuntu 12.04 next month. That version will bring with it several enhancements to Ubuntu's cloud offerings, not to mention the peace-of-mind for server administrators of a longterm-support (LTS) lifecycle -- the first since Ubuntu 10.04 appeared two years ago.

This is all to say that things are looking up for Canonical, Ubuntu and the cloud in both the its public and private forms. Stay tuned.