canonical-ubuntu-moneyIt's another small step for Canonical's Ubuntu business, and a giant leap forward for the company's Landscape management platform. The new Landscape 1.3 release allows IT managers and resellers to remotely administer physical or virtual servers within a corporate network or on the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). But this is more than a technology story. Landscape could play a critical role in Canonical's effort to build revenue-generating services.

That's right: Canonical is becoming a service provider. Here's where I think Landscape fits in the Ubuntu market today -- and where I think Landscape is heading over the next two to three years.

First, the near-term opportunities: Ubuntu Server Edition continues to carve out a niche for itself for general purpose applications -- file, print, Web, email, etc. Many members of the WorksWithU 1000 -- which tracks Ubuntu deployments worldwide -- have pushed beyond Ubuntu desktops and now run Ubuntu servers as well. Moreover, Canonical is experiencing some progress with Hewlett-Packard Co., which is expected to soon certify ProLiant servers to run Ubuntu. Plus, independent training centers are introducing new courses for Ubuntu Server Edition.

Today's Challenges

Now for the three key challenges facing Canonical and Ubuntu Server Edition:
  • Revenue Model: Certainly, not all Ubuntu Server Edition customers actually pay Canonical for support. So even as Ubuntu Server Edition's installed base grows it's unclear how much money Canonical actually makes off the operating system.
  • Administration: Even customers that are curious about Ubuntu Server Edition may hesitate to deploy the operating system until they find mature management tools for the operating system.
  • Channel Support: Solutions providers also are trying to figure out how to (A) cash in on Ubuntu and (B) remotely manage customers' initial Ubuntu deployments.
Landscape, at least in theory, can play a role in addressing all three of those challenges. Aside from developing the Ubuntu distribution, Canonical is building a portfolio of revenue-driven Ubuntu services -- from Landscape (for administration) to Ubuntu One (for shared file management). Ubuntu One is in beta testing now; Landscape 1.3 is available immediately.

According to a Canonical press release, Landscape 1.3 includes:

  • Management of Ubuntu on Amazon EC2 – as users begin to migrate applications to cloud environments, they can now use Landscape to start, stop and manage their Ubuntu instances on Amazon EC2, the world's most popular cloud environment.

  • The ability to choose Ubuntu images on Amazon EC2 – pre-configured by Canonical with a Landscape client, this simplifies the process of managing Ubuntu on Amazon EC2. Users can enter their EC2 credentials directly through Landscape to start a service.

  • Management of physical and virtual machines – start an Ubuntu Amazon Machine Image (AMI) on Amazon EC2 and easily register that instance with a Landscape subscription. All virtual machines can then be managed and monitored in the same way as physical ones.

  • Updated Custom Graph feature – users can create and store trends of key system parameters. They can create simple scripts to plot those parameters as well as monitor any machine-reportable parameter such as CPU, memory and disk usage.

Tomorrow's Opportunities

Landscape sounds promising. Over time, I expect it to evolve into a tool for corporate IT managers and Canonical's channel partners -- including resellers, solutions providers and managed service providers (MSPs).

Simply put: Most of today's smartest solutions providers and MSPs are charging their customers flat monthly fees to proactively monitor and trouble-shoot business networks. In theory, Landscape fits perfectly into this so-called managed services, recurring revenue model. But there are some short-term problems Canonical will need to sort out.

Let's start with price: Landscape is available free with Ubuntu support from Canonical or, for those who do not yet require support, as a paid service priced at $150 per node, with discounting available on larger volumes. But the math doesn't really add up for channel partners. Most MSPs are charging anywhere from $50 to $250 per managed desktop and server. I'm not sure if Canonical's $150-per-node price will leave enough profit margin for VARs and MSPs to back Landscape.

Still, I'm getting ahead of myself. Initially, Canonical is targeting corporate IT managers with Landscape. It could take months -- or years -- for Canonical to built out a channel strategy for Landscape.

The sooner, the better. Clearly, Canonical wants to offer a range of paid managed services around Ubuntu. Without channel partners on board, Landscape and other emerging Canonical services can't fulfill their vast promise.

WorksWithU is updated daily. Don’t miss a single post. Sign up for our RSS and Twitter feeds (available now) and newsletter (coming in 2009).