November 15, 2005

IBM's validation of Ubuntu is a victory for Debian

Author: Stephen Feller

The Ubuntu project last week announced that IBM has validated the year-old Linux distribution's version 5.04 for use with its DB2 Universal Database, bringing together a database designed to automate many time-consuming tasks with an operating system billed as easy-to-install and even easier to use.

IBM's validation comes on the heels of the release of Ubuntu's server version in October and in advance of the enterprise edition planned for release next April. The release is expected to be the base for further certifications, said Malcolm Yates, strategic alliance and partner manager for Ubuntu and the project's corporate sponsor, Canonical Ltd.

Yates said that moving into server and enterprise versions of Ubuntu Linux, which is based on Debian architecture and infrastructure, is just a matter of time as the project moves on its mission to offer larger systems and networks the same ease of use that desktop users now enjoy. "I think it shows the foresight by the DB2 product team in choosing Ubuntu as their next supported platform," Yates said.

IBM both recommends operating systems for use with the database and also validates others for use as well. The list of supported Linux environments at the company's Web site includes 12 distributions DB2 can work with -- five recommended distributions, including two versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and two of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, and seven validated platforms that include Ubuntu, Mandriva Corporate Server, and two versions of Turbolinux server software.

The IBM validation is a big step for Ubuntu, Debian Project Founder Ian Murdock said. A lack of support for independent software vendors (ISV) has been a historical weakness of Debian-based distributions, but IBM's recognition of a Debian-based system is important to the project's overall community.

Building on Debian

"With the weakness addressed, Debian can finally take its rightful place as the third global enterprise Linux player," Murdock said, adding however that it would be better for the core platform if the validation were not limited to Ubuntu. "I'd obviously prefer to see ISVs certify Debian directly rather than to a specific derivative like Ubuntu. The last thing we should want to do is compete amongst ourselves as to what derivative becomes 'Debian' to the ISV community."

Murdock gave protection and continuation of the core itself as the reason that several of the major Debian derivatives, such as Knoppix, Xandros, Mepis, and Murdock's own Progeny, formed the Debian Common Core Alliance (DCCA). The DCCA, which also is Linux Standard Base (LSB) compliant, is an effort to at least keep the basics of Debian systems in line with one another.

"From where I sit," Murdock said, "the collective opportunity we build around Debian by working together vastly exceeds what any one of us would be able to do on our own, even if we did manage to corner the market without destroying it. And that's unlikely, if the past is any indication."

Yates did not say whether Ubuntu has moved to work more closely, or at all, with the DCCA, but Murdock said he has spoken with Mark Shuttleworth, founder and sponsor of Ubuntu, as well as others involved with the project about working together -- though he added that it is an "important distinction" that he has not done so as a representative of the community, just as a member of it.

Hopeful that something can happen, Murdock reiterated concerns he raised on his blog in April about Ubuntu benefitting the Debian core only with source code patches that can be backported to it. Striving mainly to keep the Debian community together, he said patches are "valuable, but not nearly as valuable as the opportunity to grow the whole Debian ecosystem together."

In the meantime, DCCA is moving ahead with its own validation and certification programs, Murdock said, though he would not offer details beyond saying the organization is currently engaged with a number of ISVs, independent hardware vendors, and original equipment manufacturers. Details should come out in the next several weeks, he said, but will not be fully available until the DCCA partner and certification programs are formally launched at some point in the near future.

"Generally speaking, you'll be able to certify your product once, to the DCCA, and that certification will apply to all DCCA-certified distributions," Murdock said. "You won't have to go out and establish business relationships with every single DCCA member ... There's not single-source supplier of service. If you're not happy with the service you are getting from your current support partner, you can change support providers without affecting your certification status."

The DCCA also will provide support for all of its certified platforms, much the same way Ubuntu provides it for their operating system.

With its six-month release cycle, Ubuntu is picking up support features along the way, such as continuously improving and adding to support service available to its customers either directly, from Canonical, or through Web forums, mailing lists, and IRC channels. The 5.10 server version of Ubuntu does not have extended support yet, Yates said, but he said that the experience with its first server offering "will clearly provide us with invaluable experience with regards to certification of both hardware and software."

And although Yates reiterated Ubuntu's intention to never offer proprietary software, he said he expects many more businesses to consider Ubuntu as it prepares to launch its enterprise version and extends support cycles for it in an effort to garner more certifications and validations.


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