Ubuntu cloud logoThe jury may still be out on what exactly cloud computing even means, but that isn't stopping most IT movers and shakers from churning out incessant reminders of how important the cloud is. Canonical, which this week released a new publication highlighting the way Ubuntu fits into the cloud, is no exception. Here's a look at this latest effort to market Ubuntu to a cloud audience, and what it says about Canonical's strategy over the longer term.

As the results of Canonical's survey of Ubuntu server users indicated last week, the cloud is an area where Ubuntu still has a lot of room to grow. And since that growth isn't likely to happen all by itself, Canonical has been pushing the cloud hard to consumers. It has developed a cloud-computing portal for the Ubuntu community and is actively pursuing cloud-oriented technologies everywhere from the desktop (think Ubuntu One) to the server (home of the Ubuntu Cloud Infrastructure).

The Cloud and the "Near Future"

Most recently, Canonical began distributing a short e-book titled Enterprise Cloud Strategy: Six Near-Future Scenarios last Monday. Available as a free download, the publication touts the benefits of using Ubuntu in a cloud environment, emphasizing above all the advantages derived from sticking to flexible, open-source technologies.

Some aspects of the booklet come off as a bit melodramatic, such as the section titled "(MORE) GLOBAL ECONOMIC TURMOIL." But sensationalist tendencies aside, the publication also makes some good points about the way organizations should plan their cloud strategies.

For one, it points to Ubuntu as a potentially more environmentally friendly -- and, by extension, cost-efficient -- option on which to build cloud infrastructure, given Canonical's efforts to optimize Ubuntu for energy-efficient processors like ARM. I'm not sure Ubuntu is so unique in this respect -- Linux in general is quite ARM-friendly, arguably more so than proprietary platforms -- but Ubuntu is as likely as any other major distribution to come out ahead of the pack if and when ARM servers take off.

The book also highlights the open-source tools built into Ubuntu's cloud solutions, especially JuJu, as well as management tools like Landscape (which, alas, is still proprietary). This is a solid point: It's hard to argue against the logic that anyone looking to invest in the cloud will likely benefit from sticking to mature open-source solutions as much as possible. In an ecosystem where standards are still evolving, becoming tied to proprietary technologies could turn out to be hugely problematic.

And last but not least, I was intrigued by Canonical's emphasis on the dangers of "virtual image sprawl," or the tendency of cloud environments to decrease efficiency by encouraging the creation of more virtual machines than necessary. I was surprised that the book raised this topic at all, since in one sense it discourages investment in the cloud in the first place -- quite the opposite of Canonical's goal.

It's also not clear to me how Ubuntu is any better for preventing virtual-image sprawl than other operating systems, since the problem seems to have more to do with IT administrators' behavior and planning than with the particular software they use. But I admire Canonical all the same for pointing out that cloud computing can have its downsides, a fact which many bright-eyed advocates of the cloud are reluctant to admit.

Cloud computing remains in a state of rapid evolution, as do Ubuntu's solutions for the cloud. It's hard to say how they'll come together when the niche grows more mature. But what is clear is that Canonical hopes to tie Ubuntu's future closely to the cloud, whatever that ends up meaning in real terms.