Eucalyptus CEO brings the cloud down to earth

Marten Mickos explains Eucalyptus' partnership with Amazon, what he thinks of OpenStack, and what customers are doing with the Eucalyptus private cloud platform

The whole idea of the private cloud is to borrow technology and techniques pioneered by public cloud providers and apply them to the data center. Eucalyptus took that idea literally. Back in 2007, six Ph.D.'s at UC Santa Barbara funded by the National Science Foundation set out to create a private cloud platform that essentially mimicked Amazon Web Services functionality and APIs.

Marten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus since 2010 and the former CEO of MySQL AB, never ceases to be inspired by the Amazon IaaS (infrastructure as a service) juggernaut. According to Mickos, Amazon Web Services is not just the most popular such offering by wide margin -- it's a global community and a hub of innovation.

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Eucalyptus can now emulate new Amazon Web Services functionality more closely, notes Mickos, thanks to a technology development and marketing partnership Eucalyptus struck with Amazon in March 2012. Mickos was also instrumental in a recent strategy change: Rather than maintaining one open source and one paid version, with two different code bases, as of June 2012, Eucalyptus now has a single code base under a standard GPL.

When I asked how Eucalyptus makes money, Mickos joked that, "We're like MySQL, we give away our products free of charge, and then we make it up in volume." In fact, Eucalyptus offers a subscription model similar to that of Red Hat, which in Eucalyptus' case also entitles customers to special plug-ins -- to support VMware's ESX hypervisor, for example, or to integrate with EMC storage systems.

In conversation, Mickos comes across as a frank, no-nonsense guy rather than a pitchman-in-chief. The following is an edited version of my interview with him. I began by asking him to describe what Eucalyptus' Amazon Web Services compatibility really means.

Knorr: From the beginning you've been seen as like the "private cloud version of Amazon Web Services." Everybody claims API compatibility with Amazon now. To what degree are you more Amazon-like than anyone else?

Mickos: Well, we are, in many dimensions. Nobody is 100 percent the same -- you will find differences, some of them stemming from the fact that running in a public cloud is just inherently different than being on-premise. But we have made sure that we have the best fidelity.

The reason why Amazon chose to partner specifically with us is that, first of all, we have Amazon API functionality natively into our product. We have EC2, S3, EBS, and IAM. We take our role in the IaaS layer very seriously, and we're working on that and perfecting it. So we have those four sets of APIs, which is more than anybody else. We are continually fine-tuning them and making sure that we have similar error codes and similar behavior behind the API. And for that it is useful, of course, to be a partner of Amazon, because we have access to their technical people.

Knorr: From the outside, it's difficult to tell what this partnership means, other than Amazon giving its official blessing to Eucalyptus.

Mickos: There are two activities stipulated in our partnership contract with them. One is that we do the technical work together. They do not give us code. It's not a licensing deal. But it's a question of knowledge transfer and them assisting us as we develop more and more AWS functionality.

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