hp-ubuntu-serversYou can't be half-pregnant. And Hewlett-Packard can't be half-committed to Ubuntu Server Edition. Over the next few months, I think you'll see HP make a far more comprehensive commitment to Canonical's Linux server strategy. Here's why.

First, today's news: Canonical has certified Ubuntu 9.04 Server Edition on Hewlett-Packard's HP ProLiant G6 servers; Ubuntu is now certified to run on 17 different ProLiant configurations. I've been expecting this news for several months. Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth hinted during the Ubuntu 9.04 launch that a Hewlett-Packard server announcement would surface within a few weeks or months.

At the time, Shutteworth said Ubuntu 9.o4 had been tested to run on 45 different server configurations from IBM, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Lenovo and other server makers.

A Closer Look

But what does the HP-Canonical relationship really mean? From my view, HP is essentially beta testing the Ubuntu Server market... kicking the tires and going out for a test drive, if you will.

HP isn't pre-loading Ubuntu on servers. But this week's stamp of approval assures VARs and customers that it's safe to deploy Ubuntu 9.04 Server Edition on the ProLiant G6 systems.

And if customers start demanding Ubuntu Server Edition, you can bet HP will start preloading Ubuntu on ProLiant systems. In fact, I think it's inevitable. Our own WorksWithU 1000 survey shows a growing number of Ubuntu deployments leaping from desktops and laptops onto servers.

The myth that Ubuntu is just a desktop option is dying.

Ubuntu is gaining momentum as a Web server, email server and application server -- though Canonical needs to recruit far more ISVs (independent software vendors) to support Ubuntu. Oracle. SAP. IBM Websphere. Lotus Notes. DB2. Yes, I know Canonical has a relationship with IBM, but IBM's application support on Ubuntu leaves much to be desired so far.

Still, I see the start of a server business for Canonical and its partners. Small hardware providers like System76 and ZaReason already offer Ubuntu servers. More hardware makers will follow suit. And now, training centers like Fast Lane and Bridge Education have introduced an Ubuntu Server Edition training course.

Reassuring Words

Also of keen interest, according to the HP-Canonical press release:
"HP will release the ProLiant Support Pack for Ubuntu, which includes agents, drivers, and utilities that can enhance the manageability of Ubuntu server on HP ProLiant servers."
And finally: John Gromala, director of marketing for HP's Industry Standard Servers, offered up a feel-good quote in the HP-Canonical press release. But regardless of what Gromala said, I'm more impressed by what he did. The fact that Gromala was quoted speaks volumes about improving relations between HP and Canonical.

Understanding the Competition

Still, I have some concerns about Canonical's server strategy. For instance, I see signs that Canonical wants to try and migrate Novell SUSE Linux and Red Hat Enterprise Linux customers to Ubuntu Server Edition. I'm not sure that's a good strategy because Ubuntu can't match Novell or Red Hat on the ISV front.

Repeat after me: People buy applications, not operating systems.

Instead, Canonical should focus long and hard on the appliance market. Email appliances. Storage appliances. Security appliances. Simple hardened devices (built on Ubuntu) that small businesses and corporate IT departments would gladly deploy as they seek reliable alternatives to Windows boxes. Plus, the Unix-to-Linux migration market remains a hot opportunity.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: Canonical's cloud strategy looks incredibly promising to me. It essentially provides a new door for Canonical to enter the server market -- without having to win preload deals with hardware providers.

We are still at the very early stages of the HP-Canonical relationship. And Canonical's own server software initiative remains in its infancy. But mark my words: HP, IBM and Dell all will be pre-loading Ubuntu Server Edition within a year or two.

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