A First Look at Ubuntu Appliance Portfolio

A First Look at Ubuntu Appliance Portfolio

by October 18, 2020

In June of this year Canonical announced a new initiative called the Ubuntu Appliance Portfolio. Let’s have a first look.

Before we go too far, it may help to define what we mean by “appliance”. Here we mean, a smart, single purpose device. For example, this could be a smart screen (kiosk), a media server, or smart assistant. Basically a device that runs Ubuntu Core.

So the Ubuntu Appliance Portfolio provides images for these single purpose devices. All the images are built with Ubuntu Core. Currently, the portfolio targets two different devices: Raspberry Pi and Intel Nuc. In addition to these two devices, they also provide images for virtual machines, so you can test any of the images on your laptop before installing on your Raspberry Pi (They even coined a cute name for this “Try before you Pi”). In short the Appliance Portfolio is like an “app store” for appliances.

Let’s see an example. Suppose I wanted to run NextCloud on my lan using my Raspberry Pi. First a I would head over to the Appliance Portfolio and find the NextCloud page (https://ubuntu.com/appliance/nextcloud). On this page you’ll see three options for where you want to install the image: Raspberry P 3 & 4, Intel Nuc, and VM. If you click your target device you’ll find instruction to download and flash the image.

NextCloud Appliance Portfolio

After flashing the image to your SD, you’ll insert it in your Pi and boot it. Then you’ll follow the Ubuntu Core install process. And you’re done. (You will still have to configure NextCloud, but it will already be installed.)

So how does this process compare to other methods of installing NextCloud? The simplest alternative would probably be to first install Ubuntu Core on the Raspberry Pi. Then ssh into the pi and install the NextCloud snap. So by installing the appliance image you’ve saved yourself a step here.

If you’re familiar with Ubuntu Core you may be scratching your head a bit. This doesn’t seem THAT revolutionary. In fact there’s nothing you can do with the Appliance Portfolio that you couldn’t do before. However, what’s exciting about the Appliance Portfolio is not what it is today but its potential. The current the number of appliance images in the portfolio is quite small (only 6: OpenHAB, Plex Media Server, Nextcloud, AdGuard, Mosquitto, LXD). Also all of these appliances contain a single snap, so they aren’t particularly hard to install and configure “manually”. In the future, however, these appliances could contain multiple snaps that need to be connected and configured and a dedicated image for these could greatly simplify installation.

Another piece of this project that is exciting, is tooling that is being build up around Ubuntu Core. Releasing these images as VM images for Multipass seems to be a clear sign to the direction they are heading. Building and testing an appliance image can sometimes be difficult without a device to test on. Testing on a VM can greatly ease these difficulty.

Stay tuned! We think this will be an interesting initiative to watch.