Ubuntu creator Canonical has released a new provisioning tool which the company describes as “Metal-as-a-Service” (MaaS), designed to bring the elasticity of cloud computing to the world of physical provisioning.

According to Canonical, MaaS manages a group of physical servers as a cloud-like resource to be allocated on demand. Cloud services such as OpenStack, Hadoop and CloudStack can be deployed on physical servers and scaled up or down as needed, and nodes commissioned through MaaS can be queued for dynamic allocation to a service.

“Metal as a Service – MaaS – is a new way of thinking about physical infrastructure,” said Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu and leader of Canonical product and design.

“Compute, storage and network are commodities on the metal just as they are commodities in the cloud. MaaS lets you treat farms of servers as a malleable resource for allocation to specific problems, and for re-allocation on a dynamic basis.”

Administrators can add, update, commission and deploy physical servers quickly via a web interface, which provides an instant overview of the status of the MaaS cluster. This makes it easy to see how much computing resource is available for deployment and how much is already in use, according to Canonical.

Once servers have been assigned, the MaaS is then responsible for all aspects of physical server maintenance such as firmware updates, burn-in testing, performance evaluation and the elimination of residual data when machines are decommissioned.

Although MaaS works with typical 1U and 2U servers, Canonical claims that it is particularly suited to big data, cloud, grid and other horizontally scaled deployments.

MaaS uses Ubuntu’s cloud deployment tool, Juju, enabling the deployment of popular structural components such as relational and NoSQL databases, balancing web proxies and web application servers, as well as common web applications like WordPress and PaaS frameworks like Cloud Foundry.

The news comes ahead of the launch of Ubuntu 12.04 'Precise Pangolin'. Version 12.04 is a Long Term Support (LTS) release, making it a particularly suitable choice for businesses. It is also the first version to feature Canonical's new Head-Up Display (HUD) interface.

Ubuntu Server 12.04 LTS will be available for download from 26 April 2012.