If you are going to build a private cloud, Eucalyptus is the tool you're looking for, says CEO Mårten Mickos

There are a growing number of open source cloud infrastructure players in the market, but Eucalyptus says it is the best bet for private enterprise clouds. Network World Editor in Chief John Dix caught up with CEO Mårten Mickos, who, as the former CEO of MySQL, has loads of experience growing significant open source companies, to learn more about the company and how Mickos sees private clouds evolving. Mickos addresses where Eucalyptus fits in, typical use cases, how they are different from Piston Cloud and OpenStack, ties to Amazon (described as the Linux of today), the importance of migrating jobs to and from public clouds, plans for the $30 million in capital Eucalyptus just raised, and more in this wide-ranging chat.

You describe yourselves as an infrastructure-as-a-service software company, but why not just call yourself a private cloud software provider?

Many times we do call ourselves a private cloud software company. I think from your perspective, when you look at us and other vendors in this space, we all have different terminology for what we are. Others call themselves an orchestration layer or a cloud operating system or a cloud platform or private cloud platform, and they all essentially mean the same thing, which I think shows this market is still in its formative stages.

We see our role as bringing the power of cloud into the enterprise. On your own servers, behind your firewall.

When you need the power of cloud inside the firewall under your own control, we bring that to you, and we do it specifically on the IaaS layer, so we are not trying to be a PaaS vendor or a SaaS vendor. We stick to the infrastructure layer, deep down in the plumbing. What we bring that others don't is we're an open source platform, we follow the industry standard API on this level, which allows you to move workloads freely between the public cloud and the private cloud. And we have technology and features that nobody else has produced, most specifically, high availability of the Eucalyptus service itself. So we are the first private cloud software platform to provide HA for that very cloud that you run on Eucalyptus.

Our main competitor is vCloud Director (VCD) from VMware. And they come in saying, "Hey guys, you already have our hypervisor and we can add cloud as a feature on top of the virtualization layer." That's the essence of their message.

IN THE NEWS: Eucalyptus makes move to stand apart from open source cloud rivals

Are there various components to your product?

It is just one product and you get all of it. You get the Eucalyptus platform and it orchestrates your compute, your storage and your networks all in one. And that's actually a differentiator in respect to some other products. It's QA'd. When we produced our latest release, 3.0, we tested it over 15,000 times in house before we shipped it. So we pay a lot of attention on testing the full product, and we don't ship it as different projects or different components. It's one product that behaves the same and is consistent across the various areas of functionality.

So it's server software, but how do you control the storage and networking?

Our role is to come in and land on whatever infrastructure you have. So you say, "I have EMC, I have NetApp, I have this, I have that," whatever you have, and our product is capable of interacting with all of that. As you configure Eucalyptus for your environment, you specify whatever you have in terms of compute, networking and storage.

Is there a sweet spot in terms of deployment environment? Is it ideal for X number of servers with Y type of networking and Z type of storage?

Size-wise there isn't a specific sweet spot. People get going with very small clouds, just a handful of servers, or you could have thousands of them. So I would define the sweet spot in terms of use case. And the No. 1 use case is a scalable Web service. Take Puma.com. All their consumer-facing websites run on Eucalyptus because they needed that sort of scalability and elasticity to serve the various campaigns and mini websites they run, so it's a perfect fit for us. Similarly, Intercontinental Hotels, gaming companies such as Plinga, Riot Entertainment, Electronic Arts, all of those are running scalable Web services that can also include a mobile component.

Can you provide more details in the case of, say, Puma?

I am not at liberty to mention how many servers Puma.com has, but it is a high number. What they get is the ability to shift workloads over to wherever they need it. So as they launch a new website and they see how traffic is growing, they can spin up more virtual machines to serve it. And they know the overall workload is reasonably stable so their data center can handle it. But within those various websites, they have varying and unpredictable workloads and they monitor that and they spin up more resources where they need it for the time being. So they get a performance benefit because, compared to other solutions they tried, this gives them more performance.

So scalable Web services is one common use case. Are there others?

The next one is dev and test environments. So larger organizations with development teams may need to spin up the environment to test a feature and then they don't need it for a long time. So they are transient application loads. By powering it with the cloud you can have the same physical servers serve all of the developers. Whereas in legacy environments you see every developer has a server under his desk. Well now you can test stuff whenever you need to and you have the whole cloud at your disposal. So it speeds up development. And that's particularly important today where you test many more variations. You must test for different mobile environments, different operating systems, different features. And now you can test a single feature. You add one feature to the program, spin up a test environment with tens or hundreds of instances, test it, and then go back to development. So a much faster, sort of Darwinian cycle there, with trial and error and figuring out what's wrong and what's working. So it makes the development theme more productive.

The third typical use case is big data and scientific applications. So areas where you have a lot of computation or a lot of data that moves back and forth. And that's actually a reason for doing it in a private cloud, because that huge amount of data would be expensive and slow to move over to a public cloud, so you choose to run it on your own servers because you gain so much in terms of bandwidth and latency and performance.

So I take it customers bring you in to solve specific problems, instead of saying, "Hey, come solve my server utilization problem across the organization." It's still more siloed for specific uses?

Very true, and the word "still" is right, meaning I see this as being a perfect example of what Geoffrey Moore described in "Crossing the Chasm." We are still in the early days, dealing with the bold visionaries. But we can see it coming, where a company will go completely over to cloud to improve the manageability of their infrastructure. But for now it is customers are looking for strategic benefits, agility in one form or the other. Slightly longer-term it will be manageability of the cloud, and really long-term it will be economy, in the sense that if you install private cloud software you can increase your utilization. So I think we'll see that over the coming years, it's just that it takes time for a market and an industry to make such a shift.

Once customers have put in some of your stuff to help scale their Web services, will they be able to add applications easily enough to build that out?

Absolutely. And we see a lot of what we call "internal hybrids," meaning a customer runs modern applications on a Eucalyptus cloud on-premise, but they run old applications in an old environment, or they may run their databases as physically provisioned because they conclude that databases have more performance when you provision them physically and the database takes up the whole physical server anyhow, so you don't get the elasticity benefit there. So we see combinations like that, where not everything can be moved or it doesn't make sense to move everything to the private cloud yet.

But over time, we believe that every data center will be managed as a private cloud and that's why we think this is a huge shift in the industry in terms of software architecture and also a massive business opportunity, because at some point everybody will need this.

What kind of time frame are you envisioning?

How long did it take for the world to switch over to Web architectures? That was a 10-year cycle. How long did it take for the relational databases to really break through and become the dominant design? That was a 10-year cycle. Maybe today the world moves faster, so it's not full a 10-year cycle. Like if you compare it to VMware's rise. VMware's technology was around for a long time, but once they started really breaking into the enterprise it didn't take them more than six years to become a dominant design and for virtualization to be a standard feature of any data center. So I would therefore guess it's something like six years, eight years.

You know, if you look at the Eucalyptus history, the project started in 2007 as an advanced research project at UC Santa Barbara. So we have now five years of history here and about a little bit over two years as a commercial entity, but five years as thinking of the technical challenges. So that's a typical time for getting into the mainstream and then it takes another few years to get everything right and turn it into a massive thing.

I asked about the network and the storage requirements, but I didn't ask about the hypervisor. Will you work with any type of hypervisor?

Yes, absolutely. We're not trying to sell you a hypervisor, an operating system, hardware, or anything. We are focused on this category and we innovate here and we make sure we can sit on top of any infrastructure you have, including any hypervisor. And that's a huge benefit for many who run large data centers and need to avoid lock-in. And the hypervisor has become a point of lock-in in the industry. With KVM and Xen really making inroads into the enterprise, that's good news for customers, and our platform is one that can support all of those and even abstract them away so much that the application won't know whether it runs on VMware's hypervisor or KVM or Xen.

I was talking to the CEO of Piston Cloud recently and he said when he worked at NASA he tried to use Eucalyptus to build Nebula but gave up on it. Are you familiar with that history?

I am, yes. If you are going to start a competitor, you would probably say something like that.

But I don't think he had that in mind at the time, right?

I would ask him. I would also ask whether NASA continues to use Eucalyptus, and the answer is yes. And I would ask them whether NASA uses his product, and the answer is no. But, you know, it's history. I'm not saying we were perfect back then and we could have handled the situation much differently. I wasn't in the company then, it was a dozen people here, mostly engineers, not really focused on building a business or working closely with customers. So all of that has changed. The situation would be different today.

Piston Cloud is closely aligned to the OpenStack community. What's your relationship to that effort?

We think it's a great project. As you know, the team that built the first implementation of the compute stack for OpenStack took the old Eucalyptus version and rewrote it in Python, and then they started building around and on top and changing things. So we feel we even have influenced the project and given it some design ideas and starting points, which we are happy with.

That said, OpenStack is a separate project from ours and we have different goals that drive us in different directions. I'll give you some examples. No. 1 is OpenStack was established as an effort to mount an attack on Amazon Web Services and be a competitor to it. So OpenStack tries to compete with Amazon and they are driving their own API standard for that purpose.

When we got going, our founders decided to follow the Amazon API and be a natural complement rather than a competitor. So we have a different mindset. We think Amazon is great. We think they are the leader in the market. We think there's a lot the world can learn from them. We believe that cloud computing is being defined by them to a large extent and fighting that wouldn't make sense. So that's a difference.

Another difference is that we come from the cloud perspective. We bring cloud thinking into the data center and the cloud thinking is very application centric. So we develop our product for the application developers and to make applications free to run on whatever infrastructure they need to run on. The OpenStack project, being started by Rackspace, has a clear operations flavor and sys admin flavor, because it's a service provider-led initiative. They make the decisions out of that context and it ends up being a different product and with different design decisions.

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