Eucalyptus makes moves to stand apart from open source cloud rivals

Release of latest Eucalyptus software update marks culmination of internal changes put in place over past 18 months, CEO says

Eucalyptus has released the latest software update, but some experts say the open source cloud project still has an uphill climb compared to OpenStack and CloudStack.

When officials at Cornell University's Center for Advanced Computing decided last year they wanted to create a public cloud environment targeted specifically for researchers, they had a couple of criteria in mind: It had to be open source and it had to be compatible with Amazon Web Services.

Perhaps it's only natural that Cornell was attracted to Eucalyptus, which got its start as an academic research initiative at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2007. Today, Cornell's Red Cloud is a 96-core machine private cloud with 384GB of RAM on eight servers and it's available for anyone to use, though is geared especially for Cornell and partnering researchers.

AWS compatibility was the big selling point for David Lifka, director of Cornell's Center for Advanced Computing. "The APIs are the same or very similar," he says, comparing AWS and Eucalyptus.

The world of open source cloud computing has become increasingly competitive since the early days of Eucalyptus, one of the original open source cloud environments. And things have really heated up over the past six months.

Rackspace and NASA combined to form open source project OpenStack in 2010, and inked early partnerships with HP, Dell and Cisco. More recently, OpenStack released its latest software version named Essex, and signed on more big-name partners in IBM, Red Hat and Yahoo. Citrix rocked the open source cloud market when it announced in April that it would create its own project based on its CloudStack technology. Now the three open source cloud projects, along with a fourth named OpenNebula, are all competing for developer and user community attention.

RELATED: Comparing participation in the open source cloud communities

The latest effort by Eucalyptus to stand part came Tuesday when it announced a new version of its software, which can be downloaded for free to build private clouds. New features include FastStart, which allows for speedier and automated setup of Eucalyptus clouds, support for the Xen and KVM hypervisors and Red Hat Enterprise Linux systems, plus numerous bug fixes. But Eucalyptus CEO Marten Mickos says he's most proud of the milestone changes that come along with the 3.1 software release, which he says position the company to gain back some of the momentum that OpenStack and CloudStack have recently gained. "I go to bed smiling now because many of the things we decided to implement a year and a half ago are now really happening, and we're starting to see it pay off," he says.

READ: Eucalyptus moves to GitHub

In the past 18 months, the company has gone through a reorganization and a change in philosophy related to interactions with the user community. Eucalyptus has tripled its engineering team to now include 30 members, while separating out the quality assurance department to be its own division, which has led to more than half a million tests on the latest software as part of the 3.1 release. The source code will also be available on GitHub, meaning that instead of having one paid version and another free version, the source code will be available free for anyone to download. Paying customers still get support from Eucalyptus, though.

Making it easier to access Eucalyptus, Mickos hopes, will encourage user engagement with the company. In an effort to better reflect input from the community, the company plans to have at least two releases a year from now on, with monthly updates and bug fixes. The 3.1 announcement is already Eucalyptus' fourth release in 2012, after there were no releases in the second half of last year.

While Eucalyptus is attempting to strengthen bonds with its users, Mickos says that the company has a markedly different approach to its software roadmap than do other open source projects. The Eucalyptus roadmap, he says, will be decided by a governing board in an effort to bring a consistent vision for future growth. It's a model based loosely off of that used by MySQL, which Mickos used to head up, and Linux.

OpenStack, by contrast, seeks support from large hardware vendors, who commit hundreds of thousands of dollars and employee time to the project, Mickos claims. "It's an industry consortium," he says. "You pay a fee to vote for features."

CloudStack, meanwhile, has "handed over" governance to the Apache Software Foundation, Mickos says. "They're all different models, but we have a completely different belief in terms of architecture," he says. Furthermore, OpenStack and CloudStack, while both open source cloud models, are going after a different market of service providers, he says, while Eucalyptus is solely focused on enterprise customers.

While OpenStack and CloudStack have grabbed headlines in recent months, Eucalyptus has steadily been making news of its own. The company scored something of a coup when it inked an agreement with Amazon Web Services, the dominant public cloud provider in the market, to extend interoperability between the two systems. "We believe to operate in the private cloud space, you must be hybrid cloud ready," Mickos says. "Because of that, we follow Amazon's APIs," he says.

Despite CloudStack touting functionality with AWS, Eucalyptus is the only open source vendor AWS has publicly acknowledged a relationship with. AWS's deal with Eucalyptus is not exclusive, though.

Despite the AWS advancement, which Eucalyptus says has helped reinvigorate energy in its user community from customers like Cornell University, some observers believe Eucalyptus is still situated behind OpenStack and CloudStack. Krishnan Subramanian, principal analyst at Rishidot Research, says there is a swelling of support for OpenStack with more than 150 companies signed on and contributing significant monetary and employee resources. Eucalyptus has "an uphill climb," he says.

The key for Eucalyptus, he says, is building the install base and community around its offerings, as OpenStack has successfully done. The Cornell Red Cloud would seem to be a good start in that direction.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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