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Eucalyptus Grows in the Elastic Cloud

Interview with Marten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus Systems

By James O. Grundvig Created: May 10, 2012 Last Updated: May 13, 2012
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“What’s bigger than open source?” Marten Mickos asked a friend, during his year off after leaving the Silicon Valley data server giant, Sun Microsystems. The answer surprised him. It planted the entrepreneurial bug in him. And it came down to three simple words: “Social. Mobile. Cloud.”

Inspired, the Finnish native and former CEO of MySQL AB, the second largest open source company in the world, began searching for his next venture. Of those three words, he chose the cloud.

Cloud computing refers to anything that is based on the Web, which includes online collaboration tools, streaming services that do not require materials to be downloaded, and Web-based storage.

In early 2010, Marten Mickos met the founding team at Eucalyptus Systems. In the IT sector, the tree’s name must be the longest acronym outside the military. EUCALYPTUS stands for Elastic Utility Computing Architecture Linking Your Programs To Useful Systems.

And what does that imply? At the cloud startup, which just closed a $30 million Series C round of venture capital last month, “elastic” refers to the flexibility of “pay as you go” in Amazon’s EC2 (Elastic Cloud 2) with the ability to scale rapidly.

So an elastic architecture is a cloud infrastructure that allows the client to define its scope, data processing, and storage needs to scale up or down in size. “Linking” API programs to “useful systems” is a kind of neural network of commands, seamlessly tying data, the application programming interface (API), and software to the virtualization of machines and servers.

What’s interesting about the “cloud”—the name was derived from the architect’s “cloud” circle drawn around a database on a schematic diagram—it refers to data being processed, stored, and accessed off site, off-premise in data farms. But, what few outside the paradigm shifting industry know is that “cloud” also refers to on-premise datacenters.

Those are not the back office servers that firms have been used to manage their IT systems. The IT guy in a T-shirt is on the way out. Software downloads, systems maintenance, and updates, will all soon be a thing of the past. Automation and virtualization are in, big time. The cloud is not only disrupting many businesses but also entire industries.

Eucalyptus’s On-Premise Cloud Strategy

Attending the Eucalyptus Conference in New York City on April 25, I was given a more complete of what the company is up to, besides the release of Eucalyptus 3 or listening to a host of satisfied clients (Indiana University and Puma) and partners (RightScale and OpsCode) give presentations. Eucalyptus uses the open source community to update their software. They are the world leader of on-premise cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS).

Long-term, mobile is an important driver in cloud computing. As we go over ten billion connected devices, and at some point over one hundred billion, we’ll need powerful and elastic infrastructure to serve them.
- Marten Mickos, Eucalyptus Systems CEO

In 2007, Rich Wolski, a co-founder of Eucalyptus, led a research group at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The National Science Foundation funded the project, which was Virtual Grid Application Development Software. They investigated “novel programming language and runtime system techniques for large-scale computational grid applications.” The results had real-world applications, as the program was used in weather forecasting. 

Soon, the research steered the team to Amazon’s AWS cloud. By 2009, Eucalyptus Systems was formed. The seven co-founding engineers and scientists, including Mr. Wolski and Dmitrii Zagorodnov, came up with the name of the company and have since developed Eucalyptus into a game changing cloud firm. A year later, they brought in a new executive management team, including database veteran Marten Mickos.

At the Eucalyptus Conference, I spoke with the personable Mr. Mickos, who spoke to me in Norwegian no less (I am a first generation Norwegian-American).

“In early 2010, I met with the founding team of Eucalyptus. Blown away by their serious determination and amazing expertise in distributed systems, I applied for the job as CEO,” he said. “At that point I was nine years older and nine years more experienced than when I took the helm at MySQL. In many ways I am the same CEO as before, but I am also a new CEO.”

On-premise clouds are critical deployments in today’s world of cyber threats and data breaches. Many firms, including in the financial sector, have real concerns about storing their data outside the company walls on remote datacenters. What Eucalyptus did was deliver cloud architecture inside the physical property of a company, as well as within the firewall of its IT security layer.

By providing a Web interface, a virtualization environment, while giving “users immediate access to computing resources hosted within an organization’s infrastructure” on a private cloud, Eucalyptus has allayed fears about securing sensitive data with their clients.

With 25,000 Eucalyptus-built clouds—public, private, hybrid—around the world, a fifth of them with Fortune 100 companies, the value-add Eucalyptus brings are self-provisioning systems, optimize performance, and improved datacenter efficiency. All three components reduce operational expenses. That explained why clients, from the USDA to Cornell University’s “Red Cloud,” were willing to share their experiences, IT challenges, and solutions Eucalyptus engineered for them.

Interview with Marten Mickos

In a follow-up email interview between myself and Marten Mickos, I garnered more insight into cloud computing.

James Grundvig: What’s the value-add that Eucalyptus delivers to its clients?

Marten Mickos: Agility. The early users saw that they could get a strategic advantage through IT agility. They can spin up instances faster and respond to changing workload needs faster. Their environment is elastic. Manageability is the second benefit. The third is the long-term benefit of higher utilization, which results in cost savings.

JG: What were the technical challenges Eucalyptus faced in developing its multi-cloud IaaS?

MM: Developing mission-critical, real-time software is never easy. When it’s distributed computing (i.e., running across multiple machines) it gets even more complex. The devil is in the detail, and it requires extensive testing to ensure that the final product is as good as it was intended to be. When we developed Eucalyptus 3, we did automated installation and testing of the software over 15,000 times before we felt we were ready to release the software.

JG: How has cloud computing impacted government IT strategies?

MM: Cloud computing is a mandate from the absolute top—from the U.S. president. Since 2008, government agencies have been financially constrained. They can’t buy new hardware or software for all projects. Open source cloud platforms came to the rescue.

USDA is a great example. They repurposed old servers into a modern cloud, installed Eucalyptus on top of it, and built one of the most advanced mobile applications on top of that with the help of a university team. The only costs they had were staff. That’s the power of open source.

JG: With the convergence of three technologies—cloud, mobility, social—will mobile computing be part of Eucalyptus cloud strategy?

MM: Yes. Long-term, mobile is an important driver in cloud computing. As we go over 10 billion connected devices, and at some point over 100 billion, we’ll need powerful and elastic infrastructure to serve them. Their workload is variable and unpredictable, which indicates that the cloud architecture will be ideally suited to serve them.

JG: What are the differentiators between Eucalyptus 3 and prior releases in terms of technology and value-add?

MM: Eucalyptus 1 was a major innovation in private cloud computing. It was the first private cloud software platform in the world. Eucalyptus 2 was a quantum leap from version 1. And Eucalyptus 3 is again a quantum leap from version 2.

James O. Grundvig is a writer based in New York City.




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