Eucalyptus: Cloud Standards Will Emerge

Eucalyptus Systems follows Amazon’s cloud standard, but CEO Marten Mickos thinks open standards will emerge

Eucalyptus makes cloud computing software based on the interfaces of Amazon’s EC2 and S3 cloud services. Its boss brings open source experience, but thinks the cloud will benefit from de facto standards.

Eucalyptus’ idea is to let companies build internal (or on-site, or “private”) clouds, which are compatible with the APIs on Amazon’s public cloud services, so users can migrate workloads between private and public clouds, as the “hybrid” cloud approach gathers steam.

It’s a good idea because of Amazon’s dominance in the public cloud space, and Amazon recently endorsed Eucalyptus’ approach with an agreement to let workloads migrate between the two.

Crossing the open source divide?

Chief executive Marten Mickos had a phenomenal success with his previous company, MySQL AB, the start-up which shepherded the open-source database MySQL from zero to the second largest open source company in the world, scaring the likes of Oracle with the prospect of the “LAMP” stack of open source products.

MySQL was eventually bought by Sun Microsystems for $1 billion, and then ironically Sun was bought by Oracle, the Goliath that MySQL had challenged. Mickos stayed with Sun for a time as a vice president in the database group, but was gone before the acquisition by Oracle – an acquisition which he supported, saying MySQL would be safe in the hands of its former rival.

That’s all in the past, though. Early in 2010, Mickos took the helm of Eucalyptus, a fledgling which in 2009 started offering  internal cloud software.

Arbuably, Mickos has crossed over from open to proprietary, we suggested, meeting him on a visit to London. Eucaluptus’ software is open source (or in some products “open-core”), but it uses Amazon’s standards instead of something more open, like the open-source OpenStack, which has been gaining ground in the last year or so, becoming the main cloud component of the Ubuntu Linux distribution.

Why follow a proprietary pattern, and dance to the tune of the proprietary leader, Amazon, TechWeekEurope asked?  “We made  made the decision five years ago to follow the same API as Amazon, because we had a hunch it would become a major standard – and it did become a major standard,” he says. “At the same time, we are not strategically or technically bound to them.”

If any other approach becomes a major standard, Eucalyptus can support it, he says, although it would take about a year to implement another set of APIs. However, at this stage, he says “Amazon has such a dominant position in the public cloud we haven’t seen a reason to support another API… we haven’t seen another player we should support.”

As well as keeping an eye on CloudStack, Mickos is interested in Microsoft Azure.  “We would love to use the Azure API. We have made no such decision as yet, but we are openly looking at other vendors. It is a business decision.”

Is migrating workloads a gimmick?

At the moment, there is a huge demand in the market for in-house clouds with Amazon compatibility, he says, because this allows users to move workloads between environments. But he admits that at this stage the demand to actually move workloads is somewhat theoretical.

“Plinga, the European social games portal, launched on Amazon Web Services, then moved onto Eucalyptus when the workload had settled,” he says, adding that other customers adopt Eucalyptus for internal clouds, as a way of future proofing he says. “There are major customers who wouldn’t have chosen our product unless it had API similarity with Amazon. They haven’t used that feature yet, but they can go to the hybrid world when they are ready for it. It reduces lock-in.”

So Mickos reckons that,while the Amazon interfaces  may be proprietary, they add to openness. But wouldn’t things better if he and his customers could use actual open standards instead of proprietary ones?  Would the world of cloud be better if it was more open?

“We are doing this as openly we can,” he says. “Our product is GPL open source, so anybody can download and redistribute it. I feel we are doing as much as anybody could be expected to do.”

In fact, he says, de facto standards are often the way to go: “De facto standards typically become the standard – and Amazon is the de facto leader.”

One benefit of using the de facto standard could be reliability, he suggests. In the recent “dirty disk” furore, Amazon seems to have come out well.  It was found that some cloud providers were not keeping customers’ data securely enough apart – it was possible to retrieve data from your cloud storage, which had been deleted by previous users of the disk. Amazon turned out to be free from this particular issue.

Cloud risks are overplayed

Despite being an on-premises product, the Amazon connection means that Eucalyptus’ success is closely linked to the success of the public cloud: “It is in the interest of on-premise clouds that public cloud does well. A stronger public cloud makes our business stronger.”

With this in mind Mickos wants to dispel myths about the reliability and security of public (and private) cloud. “I believe the public cloud is a very reliable way to have computing run,” he says, lamenting the way some IT people “obsess” about the risks of newer platforms. “What people forget is that internal data centres go down as well. Over time people will see they can trust the public cloud more than their own. We have already seen that with Salesforce.”

Security is also overplayed as a barrier to cloud, since both public cloud and on-premise IT are facing the same security issue – the increase in mobility and the fact that the boundary of the business is now more porous and flexible.

The only real barrier to the cloud is network availability, but even that is something that will be fixed. “If you take citizens of the UK in urban areas, they certainly have enough bandwidth and throughput at a low enough latency to use the cloud. The moment you step outside urban areas or Europe, you find areas where network access is the main problem,” Mickos  adds.

It will be fixed though, not because of the cloud, but because of the plethora of phones, tablets and other gadgets: “We think mobile devices are what drives cloud – the fact that there are more and more devices that need to be served, and people conduct more business on mobile devices.” It is a big change from the old days, and the makers of cloud software are the ones who will create clients that smooth out the network issues, he says.

The cloud is the only way to meet demand

In fact, when you consider sensors and devices such as smart meters, the cloud is the only way to serve their demands, and meet the rapidly growing demand for server cycles. The old ways of linking devices have simply run out of steam.

“Cloud is the last farewell to the client-server model that has served us for 30 years,” he says. “The web broke down the client side, and  now the cloud is breaking down the server side. We are finally getting out of the grips of client-server. That is the long term meaning of cloud –  the fact that we are orchestrating compute resources in a different way than before.”

Given the rapid growth in the power it provides, is cloud computing a good or bad thing for the environment? Its use of energy is growing out of control, surely?

Mickos disagrees: “Cloud is absolutely helping to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.” He believes that greater processing power can be used to optimise energy-hungry physical processes. “Factories are capable of having smaller margins of error, making less waste, and burning less carbon fuel.”

Eucalyptus itself has green features, although some have not actually been implemented in the product. “We have features in the design of the product, which we can implement,” says Mickos. These would allow the cloud to distribute workloads better, and even off certain servers completely when they are not in use. “That’s not a feature in the product today, but we are ready to build such a feature when it becomes a significant demand.”

Who is using it?

He doesn’t see a great difference between small and large organisations’ adoption of the cloud, although they are driven by different reasons. “There are two contradictory forces:  larger businesses are more conservative, but they have more tech skill inside them. It seems that these forces even out, so there are cloud pioneers from within both small and large organisations.”

He is quite surprised by the demand from government departments, particularly in the US, for cloud: “The public sector is criticised for not being on the leading edge, but our experience is the opposite. We have found amazing skill and courage to deploy modern cloud architectures, even within limited financial means. It is wonderful to work with the public sector, particularly in the US, which is so strong in cloud computing.”

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