Canonical. Cloud developers’ darling aiming at the Enterprise

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If you are an app developer you will know about, and almost certainly be using Canonical’s Ubuntu operating system to develop and run those apps in the public cloud. Market share statistics are notoriously hard to come by, but these statistics for EC2 images from The indicate that Ubuntu has the largest share of operating systems and is over 13 times larger than Red Hat.

I mention Red Hat because Canonical see Red Hat and VMWare as their major competitors as they target the Enterprise market for both public and private cloud deployments. Back in 2017 Canonical went through a series of changes that saw founder, Mark Shuttleworth, step back into the CEO role and the company de-emphasise its desktop and mobile-phone operating systems in favour of a focus on four key battlegrounds…public cloud, data centre, edge-clusters and the Internet of Things (IoT).

While Canonical deserve a great deal of credit for their adherence to open systems and have clearly developed an operating system platform for public and private clouds that is both reliable and easy to use, they face a different set of challenges in penetrating the Enterprise market. In his opening address at the recent Canonical Analyst Summit in New York, Mark Shuttleworth acknowledged that he was up against two competitors with very deep pockets. However, he remains convinced that the full stack offering, from apps through operations, containers, operating system and virtualisation to bare metal, offers significant cost and flexibility advantages over Red Hat and VMWare. History does not suggest that that will automatically lead to gaining market leadership.

Nonetheless, progress is being made. The company is reporting that they are likely to be reporting a profit for the first time this year. Certainly there has been a significant spike in sales, partly in response to the sharper battlegrounds focus no doubt, but also perhaps as a response to the IBM acquisition of Red Hat that may have left some customers concerned about that company’s future direction.

High Profile customer wins, like the recent announcement by BT that they would base their 5G infrastructure rollout on Canonical’s Openstack platform, or Barclays running 5 data centres using their Metal-as-a-Service offering, will help drive further Enterprise sales. Canonical also offer a fully managed private cloud service. Demand for this service is growing sharply. Canonical see this as a stepping stone to customers taking on and running their own private cloud. However, there seemed to be genuine surprise that 50% of their managed service customers had not transitioned to a self-managed environment.

For me, this is one of those unintended insights, that tends to suggest Canonical have not fully grasped the realities of the Enterprise IT world. For every BT or Barclays, with huge IT capabilities and resources there are hundreds of enterprises who have neither the skills, resources or even inclination to develop and run private cloud infrastructure themselves. Canonical have formed a relationship with Atos, showcased at the analyst summit, whose Open Hybrid Cloud is based on Canonical’s infrastructure stack. Such arrangements with systems integrators are embryonic at this stage. But the way in which Canonical embrace and work with this channel, may be key in them gaining wider Enterprise adoption against a Red Hat and VMWare story which will lay heavy emphasis on helping customers on the journey to the Cloud.

In a later post I will come back to the output from the analyst summit to look at their IoT platform and their approach to automated data centre operations, through a product called Juju, which appear to be genuinely strong contenders in important emerging technology markets.