Ubuntu developer Canonical has made available a preview of Ubuntu Core, a pared-back version of its Linux distribution aimed at cloud computing environments.
A key part of the platform is a new transactional update mechanism called Snappy that enables applications and the operating system to be rolled back to a previous state if necessary.
Available initially on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform or as a KVM image download for Linux desktop users, Ubuntu Core is a minimal server image designed to make it easier to host and update applications in a cloud environment using a simpler mechanism than the Advanced Package Tool normally used to manage applications in Ubuntu.
"This is the birth of a new ecosystem for the cloud," Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth told V3.
With Ubuntu Core, the system becomes completely transactional thanks to Snappy, he said, which is intended as a framework for worry-free updates.
In fact, the operating system and applications are completely separate, and maintained as discrete read-only images that are updated by adding image-based deltas, or files that contain just the changes. This makes it easy to remove an update, if required.
"You can roll back any update, and that applies to both the system and your applications. Because we have separated out the applications, we can make the system much smaller and give users much more flexibility to pick the tools they want to use," Shuttleworth explained.
The upshot is that Ubuntu Core lacks most of the libraries that make up a standard Ubuntu Linux distribution.
Developers instead bundle all of the libraries their application needs in the same package as the application itself. This approach gives developers more control over dependencies, because they know exactly what is bundled with their code.
The platform is also touted as being ideal for running Docker, the container-based platform for deploying distributed applications in the cloud.
Ubuntu Core also uses Canonical's AppArmor kernel security mechanism to enforce isolation between Snappy applications running on the same system, preventing one from interfering with another.
However, developers ultimately use the same libraries as they would on standard Ubuntu, Shuttleworth explained, they just get delivered in a different way.
Likewise, Snappy is not a replacement for APT, except in the use cases that Ubuntu Core is targeting.
The concept of Ubuntu Core is comparable to the approach taken by Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 7 Atomic Host and the CoreOS Linux distribution.
However, Shuttleworth claimed that the technology underpinning Ubuntu Core is more sophisticated, and has been under development for at least a couple of years.
"The underlying vision is very similar, but the differences are in the sophistication of the execution. With Atomic, you have a stark choice: you take everything they've built into it, or else you're on your own," he claimed.
In contrast, Ubuntu Core uses a smaller, simpler and more secure core, and offers customers the ability to use their own choice of framework on top of it, while still taking advantage of the transactional update mechanism.
The roots of Ubuntu Core actually go back to Canonical's ongoing project to develop Ubuntu as a smartphone platform, according to Shuttleworth, which is now in the final stages before its release to manufacturing.
"When we started talking to the carriers, they said the biggest problem [with handsets] is keeping software up to date, and the other big problem is security," he explained.
"This is hard because the phone is full of personal information, yet users want to be able to just download the latest app from a random vendor. The carriers said that if we can solve those two problems, we would have something really great.
"It's a remarkable confluence of forces that have brought us here. I look at what developers are doing with Ubuntu on the cloud and how central that is to the Docker explosion, and I think this new rendition of Ubuntu is bang on the sweet spot for that."
For more information on the cloud, visit the Intel IT Center.
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