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Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth has been beating the Linux drum for years — particularly around the Ubuntu distribution that Canonical develops and supports — but his message, and that of much of the Linux community, has taken more of an OpenStack tone lately. Shuttleworth came on the Structure Show podcast this week to tell us when Linux still matters and when it’s the cloud — OpenStack, Amazon Web Services or otherwise — that’s driving the ship in IT.

It was a wide-ranging interview, covering everything from Shuttleworth’s space trip to how Canonical makes money, and the whole thing is well worth a listen. But here are the highlights. And, of course, anyone really interested in learning about how the software that powers cloud computing will evolve should come to our Structure conference June 18 and 19 in San Francisco.

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OpenStack matters because distributed systems matter

“Linux in its single-node incarnation is well understood. There are a bunch of great options … Linux professionals are comfortable with any Linux distro,” Shuttleworth explained. “The question now is how you harness Linux at scale, and OpenStack has clearly emerged as the forum for figuring that out.

“We were very early into that. We moved to OpenStack as soon as OpenStack came out of the starting gates as a credible platform, and that’s why there’s such good alignment between the OpenStack release cycle and Ubuntu, and why so many of the OpenStack deployments today are on Ubuntu.”

Ubuntu can overtake Red Hat in private clouds because the OS doesn’t really matter

“If you look at the single-node Linux story, there is only one story, which is Red Hat,” Shuttleworth acknowledged. “What is more interesting, though, is if you look at Linux at large, you realize that single-node enterprise Linux story is a decreasing share of Linux in total. There are now vastly more Ubuntu servers running for enterprises than Red Hat servers running for enterprises. If you just look at what people are running on the web, for example, you see that very clearly.”

So, he argues, as more companies start looking to build private clouds, they’ll want to keep those applications running on Ubuntu because its truer open source license structure is better suited to the idea of an elastic environment. Well, they’ll want Ubuntu as the foundational operating system, at least, even if they do have applications they’d prefer to run on Red Hat atop a virtual machine:

“I think where people care, they can still achieve that. They can couple a workload to an OS and so on. At the base layer level, it’s interesting. In a sense, it doesn’t matter. All the Linuxes are broadly considered competent. … I think the deeper advantages have to do with the fact that so many developers are building cloud-oriented applications on Ubuntu on public clouds and then bringing those to OpenStack.”

Mark Shuttleworth. Source: Canonical

Mark Shuttleworth. Source: Canonical

AWS is good for Canonical’s business, but …

“We have an engagement with Amazon which compensates us for making sure that’s a great experience for everybody who’s working there,” Shuttleworth said. “And then there’s also the opportunity for us to sell some of our support services and so on and so forth on that cloud.”

However, he added, AWS can’t be the only cloud that matters forever, and he hopes Ubuntu will play an enabling role everywhere:

“Amazon’s in the great position that they have a very successful cloud. It’s not the only cloud in the world, and I must say, increasingly we see this going to a heterogeneous multi-cloud environment with very big players and regional and national players. But Amazon does have a headstart. But it’s hard for them to compete, potentially, with hundreds of thousands of bright, well-funded startups that have very specific focuses.”

Microsoft as the spoiler

Asked which cloud provider might be the one to give AWS a run for its money, Shuttleworth was quick to point to Microsoft. It has a good platform and, he noted, it made a wise decision to support Linux fully:

“I have never had an experience engaging with the Microsoft cloud guys where I felt that they saw Linux as a second-class citizen. I think they have an undeniable institutional prerogative to make Windows a great experience and to convince people that it’s going to be the right platform for themselves. But I think the Azure team saw straightforwardly that if they wanted people to trust them in moving their data centers into Microsoft’s data center, then they had to be able to move everything — and a lot of that was going to be Linux.”

And, he added, “The reason I think that they are a material force is they are in every data center today and they’re in everybody’s budget today.”

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