Ubuntu chief says converged platforms are the future

BARCELONA—The convergence of devices and software platforms is being driven by the shift towards cloud computing, which will ultimately become the engine room of all modern applications, according to Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth.

Speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, following last week's launch of a developer preview of Canonical's mobile-friendly version of Ubuntu, Shuttleworth said that one of the key challenges in the mobile space is the fragmentation of the underlying platforms.

"If you think of the vast array of devices—not just those that we carry but all of the devices that we talk to, that talk to each other—the software platforms on those are extraordinarily fragmented," he said.

Nitot via Creative Commons
Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth

"It's hard to know where they came from, it's hard to know how to update them, it's hard to know whether or not they are secure, it's hard to know where you stand, it's hard to be compliant or to audit that fragmented world."

However, Shuttleworth said that, thanks to Moore's Law, the increase in capability and decrease in cost of the silicon that powers these embedded environments will lead to greater convergence within the industry.

He said that the version of Ubuntu currently running on mobile phones is not an embedded operating system, or an RT version; it is the full Unix that also runs on servers and desktops in a broad range of security-sensitive environments, such as defense forces and national police forces.

"We think it will become true of all platforms that, in future, you won't have embedded Windows and Windows RT and Windows on a desktop and Windows on a server; you'll essentially just have Windows," he said.

"Apple and Google will take their platforms and converge them as well because, from a security point of view, being able to audit and manage a platform that is widely used on all of your devices is a vastly better proposition than having fragmentation across the device landscape."

This type of convergence is not just spanning the client world, but is also impacting modern app architecture. It is now common to have the GUI on a device and the engine of the application running in the cloud.

"Increasingly we're offloading the really rich and complex work into the cloud. So the question then comes, what kind of convergence can we create between this device, which is essentially an embedded device, and the cloud?" said Shuttleworth.

"As we slim down the platform to make it fly on the phone, we get greater density in the cloud, because we are essentially reducing the housekeeping that the operating system is doing. So as the platform gets leaner for mobile and embedded applications, it also gets leaner for the cloud."

He added: "This is an extraordinary convergence. The last time we had this kind of convergence was in the late 1980s, early 1990s when it became possible to write applications on a Windows desktop and then publish them to a Windows server."

Other areas of convergence

Convergence is not only happening at the software layer, but also at the infrastructure layer. Shuttleworth pointed OpenStack as an example of how private cloud vendors are collaborating together to make it easier for end users to essentially plug and play different components.

In the case of Ubuntu, the platform running on phones is the same one that is running in the cloud, so there is a possibility that some of the workloads will eventually be condensed down to run on ultra-lightweight hardware.

"There is a real interest in the industry to see whether some of the economic benefits that we've seen at the edge of the network cloud move to the centre of the network as well," said Shuttleworth.

He added that in many cases the real economics are not governed by the horsepower of the machine at the centre, but by the balance of storage I/O with CPU capabilities and network I/O. It is therefore likely that the ecosystem at the heart of the data centre will also become more open over the next five years.

"The industry has learnt from mistakes it has made in the past—none of us want to opt into a walled garden. If you trap users in an environment, you lose," he concluded.

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