Mark Shuttleworth -- the entrepreneur and space tourist most famous for helping to launch Ubuntu Linux -- found a new pet project on Tuesday, when he invested $1 million of his own funds in Inktank and the Ceph community. The endeavor may not involve blasting into orbit, but it's likely to make some big splashes all the same in the open source and Big Data channels. Here's the full story.

Shuttleworth's interest in the distributed data storage system Ceph, and Inktank, which provides support services for Ceph, doesn't come out of the blue. Canonical has had its eyes on Ceph for some time already, and has promoted it as the preferred massive storage platform for Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. The longterm ability of Canonical and Ubuntu to compete in the evolving world of storage and Big Data is closely linked to open source storage solutions like Ceph.

Nor is it out of character for Shuttleworth to invest some of his personal fortune in fledgling open source startups. That's how Ubuntu, which is now one of the biggest names in the Linux world, got its start a decade ago.

Storage, Open Source and the Future

Still, Shuttleworth's personal investment in Inktank and the Ceph community, which comes in the form of a $1 million convertible note, is remarkable as a strong bet by one of the open source world's leading mavericks on the key importance of Ceph to the growth of the open source channel. To quote Shuttleworth himself:
Ceph redefines storage as an open source service, meeting one of the key challenges for enterprises and cloud providers who need scalable and cost-effective storage. The distinctive architecture of Ceph gives it natural advantages over both proprietary and open source competitors. We found Ceph to be mature enough to warrant its inclusion in Ubuntu 12.10 as a storage option for our OpenStack reference architecture, widely deployed in both telco and corporate environments. I'm also delighted to support the team behind Ceph in their goal of building a commercial success story around this tremendous technology, as an investor in Inktank. Today Ceph is in the Linux kernel and Ubuntu, soon it will be everywhere.
Remember, too, that although Shuttleworth remains a sort of benevolent dictator at Canonical, he has not formally led the company since stepping down as CEO. So his interest in Inktank and Ceph should be read as mostly personal, not part of an effort to advance Ubuntu.

Does Shuttleworth's blessing mean that Inktank and Ceph stand poised to explode in the same way Ubuntu did? For the moment, that's a hard question to answer. $1 million is not exactly a gigantic sum, and the stakes and popular appeal of a product like Ceph are far different from those of a populist desktop Linux distribution like Ubuntu.

There's also, of course, the thorny issue of Shuttleworth's personality. Although hailed as a visionary in some quarters, he has made his fair share of enemies who perceive Canonical as a threat to the fabric of cooperation and coordination on which the open source ecosystem is built. His unfortunate remarks on women have also not helped his image.

Still, the future does look bright for Inktank. Although the company was founded only last May, it has grown rapidly in a few months. And Ceph's centrality to open source cloud and Big Data solutions is undeniable. Even if these entities don't become the next Ubuntu, they're likely to have a major impact all the same.