Alongside the desktop and server editions of Ubuntu, Canonical has put considerable effort into Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud recently.  This investment is poised to pay off with Ubuntu 10.10 (Maverick Meerkat), which will introduce several enhancements to the cloud-init package when it debuts next October 2010. Here's a preview of some of the changes that Ubuntu cloud users have to look forward to.

cloud-init, the successor to ec2-init that expands the latter's functionality beyond Amazon's EC2, is a tool that makes it easy to customize generic Ubuntu cloud images.  Rather than having to tweak a cloud-based system manually after it first boots, users can deploy cloud-init to automate tasks like adding repositories and importing ssh keys when an image is initalized.

New in Ubuntu 10.10

As of Maverick alpha 2, the cloud-init package in Ubuntu provides several new features.  These include:
  • The adoption of ext4 for the root file system, replacing ext3.  This update seems a bit overdue, since other editions of Ubuntu have used ext4 by default for several releases now, but it's nice to see UEC come up to speed and take advantage of ext4's better performance.
  • ebsmount, a tool for mounting Elastic Block Store (EBS) devices, will be included in the Universe repository for Maverick.  This change should add a lot of flexibility for users who want to maintain storage volumes independent of their systems.
  • New stanzas have been introduced for cloud-init; in particular, they will make it easier to enable byobu, control cloud-config modules and preseed debconf.
  • Last but not least, it will now be possible to upgrade the kernels of Ubuntu 10.10-based UEC and EC2 images after initialization.  This functionality--which doesn't have to do with cloud-init specifically, but is nonetheless relevant--is due to be officially announced when Maverick alpha 3 is released on Thursday.  Like the new stanzas for cloud-init, the ability to update kernels will certainly add some valuable customizability to Ubuntu cloud images.
To desktop users and even some server administrators, the updates listed above might sound like esoteric changes of marginal value to most Ubuntu users. But given the bets Canonical has placed on Ubuntu's ability to compete in the cloud market, the improvements to cloud-init represent an important component of one possible major revenue stream to support Ubuntu development.

Moreover, the cloud-init updates are only one example of Canonical's recent efforts to advance its standing within the cloud market.  The company also recently announced its deployment of DB2 virtual applicances and an endeavor to integrate UEC with other popular platforms.  The cloud clearly represents a central element of Canonical's push to establish Ubuntu as a viable operating system well beyond the desktop.  We'll continue to keep our eyes open for new developments in this area.