Monthly Archives: June 2012

PSA: Is your Ubuntu Server IaaS Guest Image Authentic?

The amount of uptake seen with Ubuntu Server over the past year has been extremely rewarding and simply amazing.  Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), a.k.a. Public Cloud, providers are popping up left and right, all wanting to provide Ubuntu Server…all helping to further cement Ubuntu Server’s position as the OS for the cloud.

With that said, I’ve started to become concerned about the way in which some of these IaaS providers distribute Ubuntu.  Ubuntu developers create, publish, and regularly update images on Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.  Canonical hosts and maintains internal archive mirrors in these clouds to provide a low-latency, low-cost update mechanism to users.  Finally, Canonical engineers purposely designed in a pluggable cloud provider API approach to Ubuntu’s service orchestration application, Juju, to lower the operational barriers that often place limitations on cross-cloud workload and service migrations.  We do all this to help ensure cross-platform consistency for Ubuntu Server users, i.e. workloads and applications ran on Ubuntu Server behave in the same manner on bare metal machines and across IaaS providers.

Some IaaS providers and users have decided to produce and host their own Ubuntu Server images without the involvement of the Ubuntu Project or Canonical.  I won’t go into the legal aspects of this, because I’m no lawyer.  However, I believe there is a real risk to users when these images are modified in some way, but still presented as “official” Ubuntu Server images.  Whether the changes are minor, like redirecting fixes and security updates to internal unofficial mirrors, or major, like making changes to OS and/or applications provided in the images themselves, labeling the images as “official”Ubuntu Server is a misrepresentation of the project and the product.  There is a real and legitimate risk of users losing out on the cross-platform assurance that the Ubuntu project and Canonical work so hard to provide due to the images having untested code or simply being out of sync on fixes and updates.  Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that bug fixes made to these modified images will ever make it into the official distro, thus creating a further fork between expected behavior across both bare metal and cloud platforms.  All of this has the potential to lead to poor user experience that’s very damaging to the reputation of Ubuntu the project and product, not to mention Canonical as it’s sponsor.

We ,within the Ubuntu Server team, work extremely hard to ensure our community can depend on having the same user experience and application execution results across all supported platforms, bare metal or cloud.  So…if you are a IaaS provider, and you elect to produce and distribute modified Ubuntu Server images, please…please ensure your users are aware of this by labeling them as customized derivatives.  Let them know that by using these modified images they potentially run the risk of being delayed in getting bug fixes and security updates…and that differences in OS and application behavior from your changes can lead to higher levels of complexity if/when they have a need to move workloads and services to/from other official Ubuntu Server deployments.

Thanks…we now return you to your regularly scheduled program. 😉