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Former MySQL chief Marten Mickos talks cloud computing

Marten Mickos explains why he's backing the cloud, his new position at Eucalyptus and where the cloud computing market is today.

Marten Mickos presided over the growth of MySQL from an open source project to a $1 billion business that was fundamental to growth of the commercial Web, and he's now taken the reins at another open source project turned for-profit venture, Eucalyptus Systems.

The startup develops software that turns commodity servers into cloud computing environments that act like Amazon Web Services. Eucalyptus powers the NASA Nebula project, one of the largest cloud environments in the federal government today, and some research and data crunching projects at pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, among others. Mickos explains his return to business and why he chose cloud computing.

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What prompted the move to Eucalyptus and what are the immediate plans for the business?

Marten Mickos: It's a massive opportunity and a great team; I couldn't resist it. In 2010, we are not changing any plans. We are ramping up the growth rate and investment, but it's essentially the plan that the management detailed last year. Two key things this year are to get more releases out, to be very diligent with producing more code and release it with high quality, and the other thing is securing some key partnerships and customer relationships.

We already work closely with Canonical on the Ubuntu cloud edition, that's one obvious thing; we'll be working with other large manufacturers of hardware and software and even system integrators who are the one's actually building the private clouds for large enterprises.

Does Eucalyptus have the same potential as MySQL?

MM: This might be an even bigger opportunity, business-wise. It's so early in cloud computing to estimate how big it will be. It's something that is needed all over the planet in most data centers, public or private, so I think it will be a massive opportunity. Of course, we don't know whether we will win. We think we have a great start, we know how to go about it, but of course there are many question marks here. That's the thrill of it.

This looks like a green field market? A new space for growth based on cloud?

MM: Well, if you listen to Goldman Sachs or Piper Jaffray or those guys, they say that this is the biggest thing in the coming ten years, and the biggest thing really means something massive. To be the biggest thing, it has to be a question of tens of billions of dollars in total. I'm not saying we can capture all of it, but I think Eucalyptus has a unique opportunity to be a very strategic player in that market. Of course, there are big players, vendors who will be strong players in cloud computing, there will be small and large ones. I know and I can sense it's a huge opportunity compared to anything out there.

Is now the time that cloud is coming to fruition as a market?

MM: Well, I can't say I'm super analytical about it. I've learnt a lot in the last 12 months, that's obviously clear. I still think its early days, so if somebody joins cloud computing a year from now, it may not be too late. Even two years from now, there will be plenty of big new opportunities. So I'm joining early, but at the same time, I'm also seeing that there is real revenue to be had, right now.

The challenge will be in whether we can make [cloud computing] sufficiently efficient and functional and easy to use.
Marten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus,

What is so great about the cloud? We have outsourced and services delivered online already, and some say they've being doing it all along.

MM: Our view is that cloud computing is a new challenge and you need new software to solve it. You can't solve new problems with old software. I think the world has shown that over and over again.

Sure, some vendors will still claim that some old software they have is capable of providing cloud computing services. Let's be clear, the old guys do have functioning solutions. Oracle and IBM and Microsoft, they have great software stacks that work well and they may produce great computing or they may produce something else, Software as a Service (SaaS), that is getting close to cloud. They do not have Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), where you get complete elasticity with the services, and there are a number of new benefits you get with something like Eucalyptus that you cannot get with the old stuff. The old stuff works, it works very well, so you shouldn't expect it to completely go away, but it doesn't provide the same level of benefits.

Technological advances do provide new opportunities, and maybe they are not new under the sun, but they bring some distinctive benefit that wasn't there before.

Where are the challenges for cloud computing?

MM: Well, there will be inertia among customers. Not all customers will be ready to jump on this bandwagon right away; some will. But I think we talk about the whole notion of elastic clouds and we forget that building elasticity is really, really, really difficult. Getting a cloud that can truly scale up and down seamlessly, that's hard work. Doing it with low latency is even harder, and then adding on top of that the metering, the awareness of what resources are being used and where the bottlenecks are; in the aggregate, it means it's a huge technical challenge.

Will cloud computing inevitably turn computing power into a uniform commodity, like corn?

MM: There will definitely be services like that, but we will always continue to have corporations and governments who cannot live in such an environment and need the security and the assurance and the uptime that you can only provide through a dedicated service. That's what Eucalyptus is targeting, the private cloud where there are heightened requirements on exactly those areas.

But sure, there will probably be computing available from the 7-11 where everybody can buy a little bit of computing where they need it. And Amazon is showing that; it's amazing what Amazon is doing with their cloud, we must not underestimate their meaning to the market. They're showing you can run it with low margins, on a massive scale, for consumers and corporations, available for anybody. Cloud computing wouldn't be in the state it's in today if Amazon hadn't shown the way.

And the future looks bright?

MM: I think it's hard! It's difficult. This is a difficult area, it's not for the faint of heart, but there's just a massive opportunity. The world will need this; there's just a constant need for cloud computing solutions. It's not like we'll suddenly realize it's just a fad and nobody really needed it. People will need it. The challenge will be in whether we can make it sufficiently efficient and functional and easy to use.

Marten Mickos, chief executive officer of Eucalyptus, was CEO of MySQL for seven years, Mickos grew that company from a garage startup to the second largest open source company in the world. After the acquisition by Sun Microsystems of MySQL for $1 billion, he served as senior vice president of Sun's Database Group.

Previously, Mickos held multi-national CEO and senior executive positions in his native Finland. He is a member of the board of RightScale, Mozilla Messaging and Electrosonic. Mickos holds a Master of Science in technical physics from the Helsinki University of Technology. In 2006, he received the Audemars Piguet "Changing Times Award: European Entrepreneur of the Year 2006" and the Nokia Foundation Award.

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