Marten Mickos's Challenge

The CEO of Eucalyptus talks about open source and the future of cloud computing.


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The technical changes were numerous. Eucalyptus consists of a series of independent Web services that communicate with each other; each was deeply reviewed. “So, an example, we just rewrote our networking. We had functional networking, so it didn’t stop customers from deploying, but it was complex and you had to make really hard configuration choices up front and customers weren’t sure which ones to choose and small changes would have big effects. Now we’ve fixed that so we have re-architected how networking is configured.”

At the time, Eucalyptus had optimistically staffed up to 95 employees. Along with the technical changes came an organizational change – life as a startup – and head count was slashed to 70, with some churn. Over the last year the company has been hiring.

These days, Eucalyptus touts ease of use as a key selling point, alongside its AWS compatibility. The most recent release, Eucalyptus 4.0, includes enhanced features for operations managers, those who maintain the cloud. Networking, as Mickos tells it, is now easier to install and scale. Eucalyptus has its own S3 implementation, called Walrus, which now has links out to third-party solutions like Swift, RiakCS and Ceph. The cloud controller, CLC, has been beefed up to enable faster scalability.

Eucalyptus’s customer base leans toward small and medium-sized tech companies that want to cut costs with open source but don’t have the staff for a do-it-yourself toolkit like OpenStack. “We go to the tech companies that say, ‘Marten, I don’t want more than three guys to be working on this. I really want it to function so that our engineers can do other stuff.’ So that’s a distinction between OpenStack and us.”

The client list includes the gaming outfits Riot Games and Ultimate Gaming, tech firms AppDynamics, Codenvy and MemSQL, government agencies NASA and NIST, financial regulator FINRA, Cornell University, OneHealth and retailer Puma.

To grow its market share as an open source cloud vendor, Eucalyptus will need to overcome the shadow of OpenStack. Or, maybe not.

“Over time everybody will be an OpenStack product,” Mickos says, though he stresses this isn’t a roadmap statement for Eucalyptus itself. His prediction: “OpenStack will be a set of projects, it will be a set of hardware certification, and many people will build different projects out of them. Already today you cannot find two OpenStack products that are mutually compatible.” He points to OpenStack projects by Piston, Nebula, Cloudscaling, HP, Rackspace, Red Hat, and IBM that are not compatible with one another.

“So, in the long run I think we will all use OpenStack components, and therefore you could argue we will all be OpenStack products.”

What then is the differentiation? “I would say CloudStack is selling to service providers. Eucalyptus is Amazon compatible. And then it’s up to the OpenStack vendors to differentiate. I don’t know how to differentiate it, that’s their problem.”

The centrality of OpenStack prompted a recent firestorm in the tech industry when Red Hat announced that it will not support customers that deploy to any version of OpenStack other than its own. Some open source advocates cried foul, claiming the move wasn’t in the spirit of sharing that’s so key to open source.

“I’m not saying I agree with them and I’m not saying I would do it that way,” Mickos says. “But if you just ask ‘will it work’? Yes, it will work. And it will be painful for other OpenStack vendors who have been pushing and investing and contributing and building, and then Red Hat comes in and says, ‘Thank you, it’s now ours.’”

Private Cloud, Hybrid Cloud

Eucalyptus’s competitive strategy is based on its Amazon compatibility. That’s a convincing selling point, but what if AWS, inspired by building a private cloud for the CIA, moves into the private cloud business itself?

It won’t do that, Mickos says. “I believe that what they are doing for the CIA is completely custom, hand-built, manual labor. There’s no scale. They can’t replicate it.” In fact, AWS’s efforts with the CIA will move it in the opposite direction. It will finally convince Amazon of the importance of the private cloud.

AWS will also come to understand the difficulty of building a private cloud platform. “So, when they see that, they’ll say, ‘Oh! Now we understand why Eucalyptus is doing what they do. Now we understand why Eucalyptus is a product. Now we understand why they are shipping software. Now we understand why installation and configuration must be automated.’ And that insight will drive them to pull us into business deals. That’s my prediction.”

Apart from other competitive concerns, Eucalyptus’s long-term fortunes are tied to the growth of the hybrid cloud. Businesses must embrace this model wholeheartedly for the company to truly flourish.

There’s certainly debate on this topic. “People say, ‘Oh, it’s one or the other [public or private]. One is threatening the other.’”

He disagrees. “They don’t know it’s a symbiosis. A public cloud, ultimately, cannot win if it doesn’t have on-premise satellites. And on-premise environments cannot be really powerful unless they are connected to the public cloud. It’s not two competing worlds. It’s two dimensions of the same world.”

Whether businesses will eventually see these two dimensions as a single unified cloud platform is Eucalyptus’s big bet. Only the future can tell.

Here's Mickos on the future of cloud computing and Eucalyptus: 

This is a single player video template with no brightcove branding and autoplay.

James Maguire is Datamation's managing editor. Follow him on Twitter: @JamesMaguire

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Tags: open source, cloud computing, private cloud, Eucalyptus, OpenStack

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