Canonical Ubuntu management tool gets hefty upgrade

Canonical sees its Landscape software as central to its success in the enterprise

Anticipating greater usage of Ubuntu within the enterprise, Canonical has released a significant update to its Landscape Ubuntu system management tool.

"We have really been cranking up the level of effort with Landscape over the past year or so," said Federico Lucifredi, Canonical's Landscape product manager. "Landscape is a very important piece of our enterprise strategy, and so Canonical's commitment has increased dramatically."

The new version of the software, Landscape 12.09, is designed to better manage systemwide software updates. It offers more compliance reporting. This version also exposes its API (application programming interface) so it can be connected with other system management tools, such as Puppet. Also, the for first time, the software allows administrators to install Ubuntu over a network, in a process called bare-metal provisioning.

Launched in 2008, Landscape is systems management software that administrators can use to centrally monitor and update a fleet of computers running either Canonical's desktop or server Linux distribution.

Landscape is typically updated around twice a year. This version, however, is the first updated in nearly a year. The new version however comes with a wealth of new features, aimed squarely at providing all the functionality typically enjoyed by Microsoft Windows management tools

To better serve enterprise compliance efforts, Landscape offers a dashboard that shows which machines in a network have been updated. This can be handy for determining how many servers comply with an organization's security guidelines around patching. Also helping on the compliance front, the software now features role-based access control (RBAC), which can be used to specify which actions each Landscape user can take, as well as which machines they are allowed to manage.

Landscape's newly exposed API provides access to all of the functionality with Landscape itself. By writing scripts that call Landscape features through the API, administrators can assemble automated workflows, written in Python or some other shell-friendly programming language, that run across Landscape and other system management tools, such as Puppet or Nagios.

For instance, a script could be written so that Nagios, an open source infrastructure monitoring tool, sends alerts to Landscape whenever a server goes offline. Upon receiving this alert, Landscape can, in turn, alert the appropriate system administrators, or take some other corrective action.

"The API allows for quite a bit of integration of different popular tools in the enterprise. No single tool does everything, so you have to coexist with lots of other tools, particularly legacy," software, Lucifredi said.

The bare-metal provisioning allows an administrator to install a copy of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, along with associated software, on a server devoid of any software. Ubuntu's Metal-as-a-Service (MAAS) technology uses Intel's PXE (Preboot Execution Environment) protocol, which allows computers to be started up from over a network. An administrator could use this tool to quickly install hundreds or even thousands of copies of Ubuntu at remote locations, even over a WAN (wide area network).

The new software is also designed to easily manage software repositories. An organization may maintain their own repositories of the software they use, especially open source software. This allows them to test and modify the updates before they are installed on production machines.

Other new features: Machines can be assigned specific policies for when to update themselves, with options to update only security patches or to go through with all updates. Machines can also be instructed to do updates only during certain hours, so the updates won't slow the servers during times of heavy usage.

Landscape is proprietary software available only as part of the Ubuntu Advantage service package. It can run on either a dedicated server or be hosted by Canonical itself. With this edition, Landscape can now support up to 40,000 clients from a single console. Ubuntu Advantage starts at US$100 per desktop and $700 per server per year, with tiered discounts based on the number of computers being managed.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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