Clouds, Universities, The One, and What It Is.

Clouds continue to dominate my life it seems. Not just because it's December which, granted, has been awfully cloudy and dark as we push ever closer to the solstice. And while I do so love a good solstice celebration, the ever-decreasing sunlight (when it does make an appearance) at times barely makes up for it. However, the clouds I'm referring to are those associated with computing.

Last Tuesday, I gave a talk at the University of Waterloo as part of their annual WatItIs technology conference. WatItIs is "WatITis is a one day conference for those involved in IT planning, support and decision making at the University of Waterloo." As such, it tends to cover a lot of ground, when it comes to the technology it explores. I attended talks on video conferencing by Koorus Bookan, and another by Ken Salem who gave an high-level introduction to cloud computing.

My particular talk was titled "Seeding the Clouds ", a live demonstration of what's involved in deploying servers and operating systems in the cloud, and a strangely appropriate followup to Ken's talk. As part of that demonstration, I deployed an Ubuntu 8.10 64 bit system in Amazon's EC2 cloud, then logged in. I also created a machine under KVM using virt-manager on Salmar Consulting's servers. Finally, as a demonstration of a Web OS, I installed eyeOS, then had people create accounts and log in. Live. All in under 40 minutes. While I'm not much of a slide presentation guy (I prefer demonstrating things), I did prepare this somewhat lighthearted introduction to my talk if you're curious. I don't do slides, so take it for what it is .

The talk did focus on deploying servers, or server-based services in your favorite vendor's cloud and as such, did have a corporate angle to it, or at the very least, an organizational one.

Ubuntu One is accessible from the Ubuntu Netbook Remix desktop.

All of those ties in nicely to some of what I've been sharing with you here in terms of cloud-based resources and that little side topic of making sure you back up your important data (is there any other kind). When I set up the new netbook with Ubuntu Netbook Remix, I was tempted by a rather interesting little icon on the desktop (click the image to the right for a nice screenshot). Ubuntu One is Cananical's cloud-based storage solution. Currently in Beta, you need a Launchpad account to access it. What Ubuntu One does is provide you with storage space in Ubuntu's cloud. You can backup your data, sync your files, and even share those files and folders with others via email invitations. The service offers 2 GB of free storage. If that isn't enough for you, you can increase that to 50 GB for a paltry $10 per month.

You can install the Ubuntu One packages easily with an 'sudo apt-get install ubuntuone-client-gnome' or, if you prefer the GUI experience, fire up Synaptic and search for ubuntuone. When you start Ubuntu One, you'll be asked to log into, or create, a Launchpad account. Once you do, your browser will open with a multi-tabbed interface where you can access your stored information, create folders, upload files, and so on.

Ubuntu One via Mozilla

Some packages are already Ubuntu One aware or at least have optional Ubuntu One integration; Tomboy Notes, for instance, to keep track of all those little ideas floating around in your head. You can also load up the evolution-couchdb package if you would like to keep your contact information in sync using Ubuntu One. Client packages come in a desktop-agnostic python version, and a nice GNOME-integrated version (which comes with the Ubuntu Netbook Remix). There is also a KDE client under development if you'd like to give it a try.

The clients provide a handy system tray icon that lets you connect, disconnect, and otherwise interact with your Ubuntu One resources.

Click Open Folder and you can navigate your Ubuntu One resources as you would any other folder on your desktop. Drag and drop, move, copy, and other use that cloud storage resources as though it were just another folder on your system.

It's a great way, and certainly an inexpensive one, to share, sync, and otherwise store your files in somebody else's cloud. And really, that'\s the whole idea behind companies offering these services. They have far more computing resources than they need (processor, disk, memory, etc) and it makes sense to charge rent to people who can use those resources.

Accessing Ubuntu One from the system tray icon.

Which brings me back to the University. Universities are strange and wondrous places where you can almost taste new ideas floating in the air as you walk the campus. That said, there's a lot of old ideas floating about as well. Every college, every department, and every floor or every building seems to be composed of little fiefdoms who control their own resources (it's great to be king ), and not always in the most efficient of ways. Some have many servers with resources sitting idle, while other departments (other fiefdoms) complain of being the have-nots on campus, clamoring for their own servers to do their bidding. Buying hardware represents budget expenditures both in material costs and the time to get IT people to deliver, install, load up, configure, and otherwise deploy those servers.

In Issue 2 of Ubuntu User Magazine, I wrote an article on Eucalyptus and Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud (available in the 9.10 Karmic repositories). I described how anyone could use this software to create their own private clouds -- in essense, using software to manage all those disparate machines in a private cloud, and making the unused resources available to others through virtualization. Eucalyptus is a management tool, one that lets you view all those bits of hardware as a single set of resources. It's all open source and free for the download.

With these private clouds, every University fiefdom that has one or more servers sitting mostly idle, could direct those extra resources to a higher purpose. It's all good and everyone involved will be on cloud nine. See, you can build castles in the sky. In the clouds, anyhow.

Until next time . . .



And my university considers UbuntuOne and Dropbox (and others) as Peer-to-Peer networks... and thus block any ability to use them. This makes me angry. There is not innovation in the air.

The expanse of space surrounding Planet *buntu is getting busier and busier. As a result, achieving a stable orbit is particularly difficult when you're easily distracted. Consequently, Marcel Gagné's blog looks at pretty much anything and everything that orbits Planet *buntu. News, howtos, rumors, opinions, controversy, tech tips, helpful hints . . . you'll find it all here. Oh look! A shiny object!

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