An Interview with Eucalyptus’ Marten Mickos

I have done consulting work for MySQL as it enters the Japanese market for more than three years. I have not seen Marten Mickos for a few years. I wondered what his next move would be after he left MySQL. I heard he became CEO of Eucalyptus, which is gaining visibility in the crowded cloud computing market. I asked him to talk to me about his new venture. In spite of his busy schedule, he was nice enough to sit down with me at breakfast and share his views on Eucalyptus and cloud computing. I usually take my own pictures for this blog, but I forgot to do so in the excitement of talking with him. So the official picture from Eucalyptus is a little too formal for my blog. But, oh, what the heck!

Marten Mickos

The following is a summary of our talk.

Q: Correct me if I’m wrong: Eucalyptus provides a set of open source tools and utilities to create on-premise clouds. All the components are either from Eucalyptus or some other open source. In addition, it has a hook to pick different types of hypervisors and to run on major Linux distributions like Ubuntu and CentOS. It is largely compatible with the Amazon Web Services (AWS) environment. You can move your virtual machines (VMs) between Eucalyptus and AWS clouds.

A: Basically, you are right. We provide a platform for building on-premise cloud.

Our enterprise version supports multiple hypervisors, such as Xen, KVM, and VMware.

Q: Can you name your customers for the enterprise product? Is the pricing based on number of CPUs?

A: We have several customers that are large enterprises and government agencies. I cannot reveal their identities yet, because I need their consent. Licensing is based on cores and we charge about $300 per core.

Q: What is an on-premise cloud, and what is the difference between on-premise and private clouds? In the past, you were looking for a better term than on-premise cloud. Did you find one?

A: An on-premise cloud runs on your hardware infrastructure at your site. A private cloud is a cloud reserved for the use of one single organization. In many cases, if not all, you can use the two terms interchangeably.

Q: What is your license for the open source side?

A: It is GPL version 3.

Q: Who develops code and commits it to the main trunk? Who has the copyright of the code? Do you take others’ contributions as well?

A: We develop our code and have the copyright of the code but take in others’ contributions as well.

Q: So this is somewhat similar to what you did at MySQL?

A: Yes. But the difference is that MySQL was disruptive in the old database market, but Eucalyptus is innovative in the new market of cloud computing.

Q: You are a big proponent of open source, and you like what Rackspace recently did? I mean that it created OpenStack for clouds. NASA’s Nebula project uses Eucalyptus, and they contributed their code to the OpenStack project. Did they include Eucalyptus in OpenStack as well?

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A: Yes, I like what Rackspace did. I do not think they included Eucalyptus, because our license is GPL and OpenStack is by Apache 2.0. With open source, users can naturally take your code, use it, modify it and redistribute it. In the cloud market there are new projects and companies being launched all the time.

Q: If everyone can do it, what you are doing? What are your differentiation and/or advantage points?

A: We see it as a benefit, not a problem, that open source gives users many freedoms. Already today we have tens of thousands of users who do not need our commercial support. But the most mission-critical installations are dependent on our support, bug fixes and further development of the product. Uniquely in this market at this time, we have a scalable, mature and functional product.

Q: Amazon uses Xen open source, yet has its own APIs and file format for VM. So open source is closed by a proprietary container and is no longer open source. What do you think of it?

A: Again I think it demonstrates the power of open source. Open source is needed in all major infrastructure deployments today. What Amazon is doing is perfectly within the licensing terms and principles of open source.

Q: What is Dr. Rich Wolski (the founder of Eucalyptus) like? Is he a typical researcher?

A: Not at all. The typical researcher does not produce very useful things like Eucalyptus. Also the typical researcher does not start a new business.

Q: Is cloud computing more energy efficient?

A: Yes it is more energy efficient. But we must remember that certain computation always requires a certain amount of energy. It is the fact that you have higher utilization rates in cloud computing and you can turn off servers that are idle for some time to save energy.

Q: What about the opposite of that? What if more demands come to you beyond your capacity? Do you load-balance among several different clouds? If so, what are the problems in doing that?

A: Yes, the vision of cloud computing includes cloud bursting, which allows you to move load dynamically from one cloud to another. Technically it is an advanced proposition and we are not there yet for the general public. There are intricate challenges around security, authentication and latency that the industry is working on.

Q: What geographical markets are you addressing now?

A: Four regions are very important: the U.S., the E.U., China, and Japan.

Q: Are you doing anything in those areas, other than the U.S.?

A: Eventually, we will be in all of the areas, but right now we have our hands full with the U.S.

Q: We are sitting and talking here in Silicon Valley. Do you plan to move Eucalyptus to this area?

A: In the days of cloud computing, the physical location of headquarters does not make a difference. The headquarters is where the CEO is.

Q: So it is like Air Force One. When the president gets on the plane, that plane becomes Air Force One.

A: Exactly. Now this cafe is Eucalyptus One, and I can make all the executive decisions from here! In reality, of course, a company makes decisions in many locations and by many executives. At Eucalyptus we work as a team and for this analogy to be perfect, we need to consider the locations of every employee of the company.

Q: One thing I remember about you, during your days at MySQL, is that you came up with good analogies. You said that regardless of which seating area (first class, business class, or economy class) in an airplane you are sitting in, everyone gets to the destination at the same time. This was in reference to MySQL vs. Oracle databases. Do you have a good one for cloud computing and/or Eucalyptus yet? That kind of description grabs people’s attention quickly and easily.

A: I am thinking about it but have not come up with anything yet.

I had not seen him for a while, but Marten remains as he was before, very nice and friendly. As I researched into Eucalyptus, I found many similarities with MySQL. They are both based on open source, but the business model has a commercial version as well. MySQL was run as a virtual company, which, come to think of it, is a cloud in a sense.

Cloud people tend to ignore the underlying infrastructure; data centers. Marten has a good sense of what is below the cloud. When he talked about turning off servers in the case of low loads, I thought about Power Assure, which has a feature to turn servers on and off as needed. If you can synchronize the operation of IT and facility (cooling and power delivery) equipment according to the loads you receive, you could save more energy at your data center.

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

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