Eucalyptus hopes to keep open-source ball rolling from academia to enterprise

EUCALYPTUS offers "turnkey cloud computing" for free, but "open-source" isn't what an enterprise IT manager wants to hear and competitors are piling in fast.

The Elastic Utility Computing Architecture for Linking Your Programs To Useful Systems (EUCALYPTUS), is the brainchild of UC-Santa Barbara's Dr. Rich Wolski. A suite of open-source software, it allows users to create a data center that mimics and interacts with Amazon's EC2 service, using Amazon's own APIs. It's described as a "turnkey data center" for companies wanting a private cloud. In a distribution coup, EUCALYPTUS is bundled into the latest Ubuntu release, guaranteeing widespread exposure and experimentation.

Wolski and CEO Woody Rollins started Eucalyptus Systems as a "public-private" venture and have $5.5 million from Benchmark Capital and BV Capital.

"We're well taken care of on the engineering side," Rollins said. Almost all of the scientists from Wolksi's Middleware and Applications Yielding Heterogenous Environments for Metacomputing Labs that helped develop Eucalyptus are onboard as well.

Wolski says the firm will make money offering products based around Eucalyptus along the same lines as Zimbra, SugarCRM and other "commercial open source" ventures. However, open source projects face intense skepticism from enterprise IT buyers, who fear lock-in and dead-end projects, as well as licensing and intellectual property issues.

Currently, Eucalyptus supports only Amazon's APIs, but Wolski is confident that he will be able to port in other public cloud APIs and hypervisors. He said they're not promoting Amazon's interface as a standard; they're just going where the market is. "We're prioritizing [supporting other] APIs by numbers," he said. Amazon is the leader in cloud users by a wide margin. He also states that keeping up with Amazon will be manageable, since Amazon has so many users it can't make drastic changes to its APIs. This might be small comfort to IT managers looking for hard-and-fast assurances.

Bill Weinberg, analyst at linuxpundit.com, said Linux and open source (think Xen) form the backbone of every major public cloud provider. The combination has strong advantages in new private cloud development, including not having to provision licenses for virtual machines, easy and free customization and widespread enterprise usage. For example, IBM bases all its cloud offerings on Linux.

"All the work has been done," Weinberg said. He added that the cloud market has a "huge organic preference" for Linux and enterprise may lean towards it as private cloud development gets into gear.

Eucalyptus has influential friends; Michael Crandell, CEO of RightScale is backing Eucalyptus Systems and offering it in their cloud management tools. He feels that the market is ideal for an open source offering to gain traction even as proprietary cloud technologies like VMware vSphere make plays for the emerging private cloud market. "We think the opportunity is huge." Crandell went on to speculate that Eucalyptus could be the MySQL of cloud computing, referring to the popular open-source database.

However, Eucalyptus has open-source competitors. Abiquo, a Spanish firm has an open source "AbiCloud" that is a polished and self-contained package for Linux and Windows platforms, and the Globus Nimbus project has traction in the field as well. Abiquo spokesman Deigo Marino said Abiquo will be announcing venture capital by the third quarter of this year and that its products, based on Sun's open cloud platform, offer independence and interoperability. If Eucalyptus Systems really wants to be the MySQL of the clouds, it will need to work hard and fast to extend its current capabilities.

Wolski and Rollins feel that Eucalyptus has its feet underneath it with around 13,000 downloads and usage at the likes of Eli Lilly and they see their competition as coming from virtualization heavyweights VMware and Citrix, not open source. Rollins says the fresh capital is "enough of a runway" to let Eucalyptus Systems get off the ground.

Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Write to him at cbrooks@techtarget.com. And check out our Troposphere blog.

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