The OpenStack ‘boomerang effect’: why people go back to Eucalyptus

Lucy Carey

Open source cloud platform provider’s VP of Product Andy Knosp holds forth on Eucalyptus 3.4, and pledges loyalty to Java.

Eucalyptus is a tool born of curiosity. The founders of Eucalyptus Systems wanted to find out if it would be possible to create an on-premise system that would behave like AWS. What they ended up with was a software that enabled pooling computing, storage, and network resources with dynamic scaling abilities; ideal for building AWS-compatible private and hybrid clouds. 

Moreover, Eucalyptus is relatively simple to deploy and configure – a key differentiator on the market. “If you look at some of the other alternatives on the market, particularly the open source cloud alternatives, there’s a lot of work in getting them stood up”, VP of Product Andy Knosp commented to JAXenter. He tells us that Eucalyptus “definitely see an OpenStack ‘boomerang’ effect” from customers who experiment with other providers, before coming running back to Eucalyptus Systems.

The development process for the software has always been heavily rooted in Java, and it’s thanks to this that there is a high level of affinity between the Eclipse and the Eucalyptus communities, in comparison to other cloud platforms in other languages. Knosp says that the initial logic for employing Java back in 2007 was the grounded in its suitability for building a scalable distributed system – and that’s something the Eucalyptus team stands by today.

Although Knosp admits that there have been some challenges in employing the language, “there’s always challenges with every language, specifically in terms of things like security, and we have no plan to depart – we still see a strong community around Java, and I think at this point, we’re going to continue to focus on an architecture that’s based on Java for Eucalyptus”.

Whilst the loyalty to Java remains strong, the devs team have been hard at work updating the software to meet the rapidly evolving demands of 2013 users. Version 3.4 of Eucalyptus launched this month, complete with a host of new tools for the burgeoning cloud market.

One of the key features of Eucalyptus 3.4 is an ability to perform ‘warm’ upgrades – a functionality that gives users the ability to move between versions of Eucalyptus. It also allows them to reduce and minimise the downtime that’s associated with performing an upgrade.

Knosp told JAXenter: “It doesn’t sound like a very sexy or exciting feature, but why it’s significant is that we now have customers which are deployed at large scale, and if we think about some the challenges that they face in terms of deploying in operating cloud environments, their goal is to minimise application and instance downtime as much as possible, regardless of the reason for that”.

He added that, “a big focus for this release was ensuring that the product just works for cloud administrators and operators, and ultimately the end users that are consuming services from Eucalyptus”.

What’s exciting about version 3.4?

Eucalyptus has been heading towards warm releases for a while now – a movement that first began with an earlier feature, called maintenance mode. This essentially gave users the ability to perform zero downtime hardware maintenance on nodes within the cloud so that they could evacuate instances off of a particular node, perform their maintenance and bring it back up. Though users were happy with using the tool for maintenance on a single node in the cloud, the general response was that they were more interested in being able to minimise the downtime and reduce maintenance windows for this type of operation.

Other issues that Knosp’s team tried to address with the release are closely linked to the long term strategy of the Eucalyptus team. The company’s focus is on being, as Knosp puts it, “really the best on-premise compliment to leading public cloud providers like AWS”. Given this, a key concern for them is the ability to effectively manage resources between the on premise environment with Eucalyptus, and the public cloud environment with AWS. With this release, Knosp believes that Eucalyptus are really starting to address “some of the concerns and some of the problems that exist in terms of managing resources between both environments”.

Knosp tells JAXenter that one of ways in which they have done this is with their user console, which is a “self-service provisioning portal that we make available in Eucalyptus. What we’ve done with the user console is that we’ve now introduced what we would describe as hybrid capabilities. We now have a single interface for the administrators and users to be able to see resources that are running both in Eucalyptus and on AWS”. He emphasises that this is a “step in a long running theme of a number of improvements” that Eucalyptus is continuing to implement to enhance the fluidity of the user experience between the on-premise and the public cloud environment. Awareness of ‘hybrid’ clouds, then, is very much part of Eucalyptus’ strategy.

We can expect to see Eucalyptus 4.0 early on in 2014. Knosp tells us will come with new AWS compatible services as part of the release, as well as a ‘scalable object storage solution’, geared at helping to improve the robustness and scalability of the different storage backends clustered behind the Eucalyptus cloud.

The company also has its sights focused on the software defined networking space, and though Knosp believes it’s “too early to declare any winners”, Eucalyptus Systems will be introducing a new networking architecture to their software that will “allow folks to easily plug in different SDN technologies”.

He’s keen to affirm that, fundamentally, the focus is on providing, “the folks that are actually building Eucalyptus clouds a number of options in terms of how they can deploy and define and configure and manage the networks within their environment”. And from the look of things, there’s that’s plenty in the new release to keep this loyal group of users content. If you’re interested in poking around in Eucalyptus 3.4, you can find out more information on the latest version of Eucalyptus here.

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