Ubuntu's Balancing Act


One thing that has always struck me in the free software world is the power of example. Once it emerged that Google ran on GNU/Linux, there could be no more argument about the latter's suitability for the enterprise. Similarly, MySQL's adoption by just about every Web 2.0 company meant that it, too, could no longer be dismissed as underpowered.

I think that the following could mark a similar milestone for the business use of Ubuntu:

In a few months, Wikipedia will finish a major transformation by moving from a combination of versions of Red Hat products to Ubuntu Linux on all 400 of its servers that support the website.

The changeover began in 2006 as the growth of the site took off, said Brion Vibber, CTO of Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit group that supports the online Wikipedia encyclopedia and other projects.

"We had a mix of things, some Red Hat 9, some Fedora, several different versions," Vibber said. The group used a custom-scripted installation procedure, but found that having a multitude of versions was more difficult to maintain for its small five-person IT staff around the world.

The move to all-Ubuntu was primarily done with the goal of "making our own administration and maintenance simpler," he said. "We decided that we want to standardise on something."


"It definitely has gotten a lot simpler," Vibber said. Mass upgrades can be done more easily and the datacentre can be managed as a unit, he said. "We can run the same combination everywhere and it does the same thing" and runs the same software. "Everything is a million times easier."

This is an incredibly strong endorsement. Not just in terms of what is being said - “everything is a million times easier” - but also who is saying it, Wikimedia's CTO. It will be interesting to see how Canonical/Ubuntu manages the balancing act of meeting the particular needs of business – ease of administration and maintenance - while maintaining its reputation as an innovator on the desktop.

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