Chewing the Eucalyptus with Mårten Mickos
As the OpenStack community vociferously debate whether to embrace the AWS API, we speak to the ex-MySQL CEO about his cloud infrastructure company which does just that.
Mickos is the CEO of Eucalyptus Systems. A veteran of open source,
infrastructure software and global businesses, he was
previously CEO of MySQL AB where he grew the company from garage
start-up to the second largest open source company in the world. In
this article originally published in the August issue of JAX
Magazine, we speak to him about AWS API, embracing Netflix OSS
tools, and of course, the great OpenStack compatibility
JAX: Could you outline the background to
Eucalyptus? Why it was set up and the problems set out to tackle
from the start?
Mickos: Eucalyptus started
out of curiosity about cloud computing. The central question was
“Would it be possible to create an on-premise system that would
behave like AWS?” The group then spun out of UCSB and became a
commercial company bringing the power of cloud inside the firewall,
and building the best on-prem complement to the leading public
There seems to be a Java and C mix in
Eucalyptus. What were the reasons for choosing those
Java was considered the best language for
building an operational and mission-critical distributed system. C
was used in some hardware integration modules.
The relationship to AWS is well publicised and
obviously very important to Eucalyptus. How does this work
Eucalyptus is the only cloud platform vendor
that AWS has this sort of a partnership with. The partnership is
twofold. On the one hand, the engineers and architects of AWS help
us as we design new features and AWS services for Eucalyptus. On
the other hand, when we identify customers who need a hybrid cloud
solution, we approach them together. The goal is to enable
effortless application workload mobility between the public cloud
and on-premise infrastructure.
How important is the formal agreement with AWS
to move in and out of AWS clouds to your strategy? What benefits
does each side get out of it?
We believe that the future is hybrid – that most
customers will have a need to run application workloads both on the
public cloud and inside their firewall, and that they will be
moving workloads back and forth.
For that reason we are making sure that
Eucalyptus is API compatible with the leading public clouds. So
far, AWS is the only public IaaS vendor with a large market share.
As time passes, and other vendors build significant market share,
we expect to support other APIs as well.
Is there not an over-reliance on Amazon –
putting all your eggs in one basket so to speak?
We just follow market shares. Today, AWS is
probably 10 times larger than its next closest competitor. As those
market share proportions change, we will support the API of the
next player as well. Jokingly we have stated that we have Coke
covered, and we are looking for Pepsi. It’s just not clear who will
be Pepsi. Perhaps it’s Google, perhaps Microsoft.
You are the first cloud company, to my
knowledge, that support Netflix OSS tools. Which are they and what
enticed you to those tools?
It all came out of developer enthusiasm to make
it work. We realized it would be a very concrete demonstration of
our AWS API compatibility. Netflix is the biggest and most advanced
customer of AWS. They built their tools for managing their AWS
It’s actually amazing that they could point the
tools to Eucalyptus, and it just worked. We started by supporting
ChaosMonkey, Asgard and Edda. By now I think we have added a few
more. The Netflix tools have raised interest among other companies
in the industry, and the fact that Eucalyptus is the only private
cloud that they run on obviously brings new customers to
What do you make of Netflix’s open source
pledge in general?
It’s excellent! It’s good for them as it builds
their reputation as a leading cloud expert. It’s good for the world
as it brings pioneering technology out in the hands of everyone.
Yahoo open sourced Hadoop, Facebook open sourced Cassandra, and
Netflix open sourced ChaosMonkey and other cloud management tools.
It’s a common behaviour in open source ecosystems that end-users
publish tools and technologies they built for internal
On the recent OpenStack debate over
AWS-compatibility – what are your thoughts on that?
That’s a long and important topic! Randy Bias
did the industry a huge favour by bringing up this topic. It’s
vitally important. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, he faced
stiff dismissal from his fellow OpenStackers. OpenStack was founded
in opposition of AWS, and they will probably never take API
compatibility seriously. Instead, they are trying to establish
their own standard. But for workloads to be able to move between
clouds, APIs must be compatible. For hybrid clouds to happen, APIs
must be compatible. OpenStack is now heading for hybrid cloud only
within the narrow set of OpenStack clouds. And a number of them are
not even internally and mutually compatible.
Do you agree with Randy Bias  or Robert
I agree with Randy Bias. Robert Scoble had some
good points, especially the need to stay focused no matter how vast
your resources, and the unquestionable need for more quantum leap
innovation to make our new cloud world a reality. But I disagree
with his statement that following the AWS API would consume the
innovative power of OpenStack.
Quite on the contrary – I believe settling for a
de facto leader in cloud APIs would free up Openstackers to
innovate elsewhere in the technology stack.
A historical example of this is MySQL. The
product was initially made to exactly mimic, in the interface, the
then popular mSQL database engine. Thereafter MySQL set its eyes on
the formal SQL standard. The discipline of not trying to re-invent
the database interfacing layer allowed MySQL to innovate elsewhere:
the storage engine architecture, the replication technology, and in
general the scale-out design. Today, 18 years old and passed from
Sun to Oracle, MySQL continues to power Google and Facebook, just
to mention two examples. There is lasting power in the scale-out
Of course every rule has an exception – MySQL
introduced the non-standard LIMIT clause in violation of the SQL
standard – because web apps needed it. It was an instant success.
But other than that, the adherence to the prevailing common
practice and de facto standard was a way to free up resources to do
other cool stuff.
OpenStack in its current constitution is
undertaking a whole set of enormous tasks: define and create a
cloud API standard, define and build a cloud platform, compete
against the leading public cloud, compete against the leading
At the same time, the various components of
OpenStack do not necessarily stand out as supreme examples of
innovation in comparison to other similar technologies. Swift is
not the obvious winner in comparison to Ceph and RiakCS. Quantum
hasn’t yet outperformed what VMware has. And so on.
Do you think this issue should have been
discussed more in depth at the start?
The start of OpenStack? I think it was. But
OpenStack was started by Rackspace as a competitive attack on AWS.
For that reason it was probably inconceivable for them to adhere to
the API of a company they wanted to compete against. As a side
comment, the API issue was of course discussed at the start of
Eucalyptus. It even became a core pillar of the strategy of
Eucalyptus. This shows how different OpenStack and Eucalyptus are,
Is there any merit in ignoring AWS entirely in
Some people argue that the API is not so
important. Some people argue that customers will start to abandon
AWS. Some people argue that hybrid cloud is not so important – that
on-premise environments will be established with little regard for
what’s happening in the public cloud.
We happen to disagree. We believe that the AWS
cloud APIs are far more important than AWS themselves. The APIs
have a role not dissimilar to what x86 meant in the 80s, web in the
90s, and the LAMP stack in the 00s. AWS has become the dominant
design – the place where the newest and most innovative developers
congregate and share their work products. That’s why AWS must not
be ignored. It’s the bearer of the cloud disruption.
Eucalyptus did this 5 years ago – what would
the company look like today without that decision. How has the
project changed over time?
Eucalyptus has changed a ton, but the core
principles remain the same. We are a global distributed team that
builds a mission-critical distributed system. We adhere to the
dominant designs of the public cloud as we bring that innovative
and disruptive power to on-premise environments. It’s difficult for
me to picture Eucalyptus without its vision to be API compatible
with the leading public clouds.
Do you see this AWS issue running on and
Yep. For comparison, OS/2 kept trying to compete
with Windows for a long long time, but people voted with their
What is the future for OpenStack and also for
I believe that OpenStack will ultimately be
successful, just not in the way the project is publicly
OpenStack is likely to become a Red Hat affair.
Red Hat is betting their future on OpenStack, and OpenStack’s
future lies with Red Hat. As a commercial product, it will be sold
as a stack with RHEL and OpenShift to CIO-led IT organizations with
large and slow-moving budgetary cycles, in competition against
VMware and Microsoft. The other OpenStack product vendors will be
The public clouds built on OpenStack will not be
able to catch up with the other vendors (AWS, Google, Microsoft,
In the OpenStack project, hardware certification
will be an important part. Other vendors, such as Eucalyptus, will
reach into the project and make use of various projects and
components as they mature. For instance, Eucalyptus will allow you
to use third-party object store technologies such as RiakCS, Ceph
The future for Eucalyptus is quite different. We
are not trying to sell a massive enterprise stack. We are offering
an innovative and disruptive cloud platform that effortlessly links
with the leading public clouds, thereby enabling the most powerful
hybrid solutions. The role of Eucalyptus is to empower innovators –
to empower the people and organizations who are building and
deploying modern cloud applications and services.
Is the future public, private or
Hybrid is a combo of public and private. We
believe the world will go hybrid. Innovation used to be an
enterprise affair. But today innovation happens in the consumer
space and in the public cloud space. From there it expands into
enterprise and on-premise environments. Building those on-premise
environments without compatibility to the public cloud would be
As to how much of computing will be on public
clouds and how much on private is something we don’t know. At
Eucalyptus we are assuming that the majority of all compute cycles
will run on public clouds. But the minority that happens on-prem
will be enormous in its own right. That’s where we are