Eucalyptus: We're the Amazon of private cloud companies

Amazon Web Services has blessed Eucalyptus' private cloud platform even though AWS remains focus on public cloud

Late last year Daniel Bozeman, a software engineer at wireless analytics firm Mosaik Solutions, wanted to build a private cloud. The company is a heavy user of Amazon Web Services public cloud resources, and Bozeman had a vision of creating a system that would allow him to seamlessly run workloads either in the company's own data center, or in Amazon's public cloud.

He looked into OpenStack, but when he was investigating in late 2011, the feature sets just weren't there -- at the time the open source cloud platform didn't have a block storage service similar to Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3), which it has since added.

Bozeman also looked at, which is now Citrix's CloudStack. But he wasn't too impressed with that either, particularly the price. Bozeman knew he wanted to use open source software, so VMware's vSphere and vCloud Director were out of the question.

He landed with Eucalyptus.

At Amazon Web Services' first-ever user conference this week in Las Vegas, Eucalyptus is attempting to carve outs its niche, and officials with the company have a simple message: "We're the private cloud version of Amazon Web Services," says President Marten Mickos. If you're looking for a private cloud that looks and acts like Amazon's cloud, allowing for easy connection with the public cloud, Mickos says Eucalyptus is your best bet.

AMAZON NEWS: Amazon launches cloud database with analytics tools, lowers S3 pricing

AWS even says so too, to a point at least. While OpenStack, and especially CloudStack, tout API compatibility with AWS, Eucalyptus scored somewhat of a coup earlier this year when it announced a partnership to develop AWS compatibility into its cloud product with the blessing of Amazon itself. That was enough to pique Bozeman's interest, and since then he's gone full on-board with Eucalyptus.

Mosaik now splits workloads that analyze and track mobile data usage and coverage between Amazon's public cloud and its Eucalyptus private cloud, using Chef recipes to provision resources based on certain workloads.

Mosaik is the ideal sort of customer Eucalyptus is going after: one of the thousands of customers that Amazon Web Services has attracted that is now looking for cloud-like features behind its own firewall. Mosaik tests and develops new features and products on its private cloud, then when they're ready to go into production, the company deploys them in Amazon's cloud. Because the architecture of the company's on-premise private cloud is similar to that of Amazon's cloud, Bozeman says it doesn't require massive re-engineering to redeploy applications to AWS.

Eucalyptus released the newest version of its cloud management platform, 3.2, this week, as part of an effort to make a splash at Amazon's show. Eucalyptus officials have been roaming the event this week, hosting parties, trying to get their name out to AWS users, and more broadly, looking to stake their flag in the private cloud market.

The new release

Born from a research project developed by Eucalyptus CTO Rich Wolski at the University of California Santa Barbara campus, Eucalyptus has gone through a transition during the past 18 months, says Mickos, who is former CEO of MySQL, which was sold to Sun Microsystems for $1 billion. Last year Eucalyptus only issued two official releases of its open source cloud management platform. Version 3.2 is already the third major feature release this year, and has been preceded by at least four other smaller releases.

"To me, that's huge," says Mickos. "Our engineering team has been on fire."

It's not only the internal Eucalyptus team that is driving those code releases, he says, but the community around the open source product is robust as well, with users requesting and submitting code updates. Mickos says the more consistent release cycle fosters more community involvement and engagement, plus a constantly updated and improved product.

The company's newest code includes updates around both usability and back-end efficiencies. "3.2 is a usability release," Mickos says, noting the ability to now spin up a Eucalyptus cloud in 20 minutes, along with a new GUI. Combined with those are fixes for "tricky bugs" in the code around supporting high availability, node controlling and improving support for Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM) and VMware's ESX hypervisors in the product. "Eucalyptus is softer on the outside and harder on the inside," Mickos says.

One feature noticeably absent from Mickos and Eucalyptus' product is software-defined networking (SDN), a technology that has been aggressively embraced by competing open source cloud platform OpenStack through its Quantum project, which is backed heavily by VMware's Nicira. Eucalyptus already has basic network isolation capabilities, but Mickos says the SDN market in general is not mature enough to productize. Some vendors, like Nicira, Big Switch and Cisco, may disagree.

RELATED: Big Switch's coming-out party

The Amazon angle

Perhaps the biggest selling point for Eucalyptus is not incremental code advancements, though. Many users are attracted to the product because of Eucalyptus' relationship with Amazon Web Services. The companies announced a non-exclusive agreement in which Mickos says Amazon's sales team recommends Eucalyptus to select customers as a "preferred private cloud" partner, while Mickos says AWS engineers help ensure API compatibility with Eucalyptus' code. "[Partnering with Amazon] was a big bet we made," Mickos says. "We thought there would be hybrid cloud opportunities and we've been positively surprised to see how many have come out of the woodwork." Still, he says the market is still in the early days of true hybrid cloud computing, from customers like Mosaik. NBC Universal, he says, is another customer.

Just because Eucalyptus touts its AWS compatibility doesn't mean it works perfectly, warns Gartner IaaS cloud analyst Kyle Hilgendorf. Compatibility does not mean feature-parity, he says, noting that Eucalyptus just recently rolled out support for an equivalent to Amazon's elastic block storage (EBS) service. Furthermore, Hilgendorf says he just hasn't seen major enterprise adoption of Eucalyptus's system.

The company is in a crowded market of cloud platform tools, notes Krishnan Subramanian, an analyst with Rishidot Research who tracks the cloud. VMware has a large and dedicated user base; competing open source projects CloudStack and OpenStack are gaining traction, with the former being adopted by service provider and telecommunication firms, while OpenStack has the backing of some of the biggest names in tech, from HP and Dell to IBM and Rackspace. "This leaves Eucalyptus in a vulnerable position," Subramanian notes in a recent article on the blog Cloud Ave.

But, he says, Eucalyptus has a solid strategy to compete against these vendors. The AWS partnership is key to that. "With AWS on the enterprise horizon and with private cloud still the enterprise focus, their strategy is on the right track," he says. "Whether it succeeds or not depends entirely on Amazon's enterprise strategy. They can give AWS some enterprise credibility and Amazon can help them fend off competitors like VMware, OpenStack and Citrix."

Still, Eucalyptus is in somewhat of a precarious position. At its keynote address on Wednesday, Amazon officials didn't exactly promote the private cloud, noting that it fails to provide customers with the ability to scale geographically or capacity-wise compared to AWS's public cloud. With large enterprises still hesitant to move all their workloads into the public cloud, though, there will undoubtedly be opportunity for some private and hybrid cloud management tools.

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

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

SD-WAN buyers guide: Key questions to ask vendors (and yourself)