Jason Perlow, a blogger for ZDNet who’s been writing about Linux for almost as long as I’ve been running it, has noticed something about the new Ubuntu Linux. For those not inclined to tune into such announcements, or those who just don’t care, the crew over at Ubuntu just released their latest and greatest flavor of Linux: version 8.04LTS, “Hardy Heron”.
Naturally, with untold thousands of folks downloading the newly-minted operating system, the pipes did get a little clogged. Mr. Perlow’s analogy to the Chinese Restaurant episode of Seinfeld was certainly apropos. Even though a sizable chunk of the burden of initial downloads of the Ubuntu software is shouldered by Bittorrent, the Ubuntu (err, Canonical) repository servers still take the full brunt of the bandwidth load for security updates and downloads of newly-installed software titles.
The demand was so great this past week, that Ubuntu’s 20-gigabit pipe to the Internet was reportedly swamped, resulting in delays for those installing packages and retrieving patches. Perlow’s solution? We should buy some bandwidth! Even though Canonical is funded from, among other places, the deep pockets of Mark Shuttleworth, our ZDNet blogging friend admits that buying bandwidth from the notorious (and conspicuously Microsoft-funded) Akamai might be a tad on the spendy side for a [still somewhat] grassroots operating system that’s got plenty of better places to send its checks.
Meanwhile, the spirit of innovation in which Ubuntu (and the vast majority of other open-source software) was built offers a decidedly different approach. Why was it only updates and patches that brought the repository’s Internet pipe to its knees? Because Bittorrent – a totally-free, high-performance, world-wide distribution network – took on the burden. While asking for handouts might be one solution, innovating our way through the problem is far more in-line with the history of this crowd.
The people who created Linux, and Ubuntu, and the myriad other open-source offerings that enrich my digital life and so many others, are very smart folks. They’ve coded some amazing things, and any ability to contribute on my part is purely the stuff of daydreams or project-induced insomnia. Even still, I can envision – and in the realm of the present discussion, I can envision a plugin for Ubuntu’s apt packaging system that could fall back to package distribution by Bittorrent should the main repository server encounter another pesky clog. I don’t imagine it would require too many late-night, Jolt-cola-powered coding sessions to achieve, and when you weigh it against the costs (in dollars or in favors) of the proprietary alternatives, it seems – at least to this geek – to be a much more attractive option…
For as long as big companies with fat wallets have always been brute-forcing problems, the little guys have been innovating their way around these sorts of bumps in the road. Sure, Ubuntu could spent millions (yes, with an m) on bandwidth for the updates and packages that help make their software great, they could also spend that money sponsoring projects and paying developers to make the software even greater. While they could look for a handout from Google (it wouldn’t be the first), they could also leverage Google’s generosity to the free software world to achieve grand things – things well beyond the mundanity of hosting patches.