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Marten Mickos and Eucalyptus. Don't write 'em off

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Open...and Shut It's always unwise to count out Marten Mickos. The former chief executive of MySQL scored big when Sun Microsystems bought the ever-rising open-source database star for a cool $1bn, and seemed destined to bring this same Midas touch to open-source cloud computing vendor Eucalyptus Systems, the company he currently runs.

But in 2010 Eucalyptus took a big hit to its credibility, with one of its earliest backers, NASA, embracing cloud rival OpenStack due to alleged problems with the Eucalyptus code.

In Vegas, this is just the sort of time to double down on a man like Mickos.

I'll admit that I didn't. At the time I was working at Canonical, the Ubuntu Linux vendor that opted to hedge its bet on Eucalyptus with OpenStack, the Rackspace-sponsored open-source cloud project. OpenStack, to me and to a growing number of others, seemed to accomplish what Eucalyptus hoped to do.

The truth, as it turns out, is much more complicated.

First of all, despite the black eye Eucalyptus took from NASA's apparent defection, no such defection ever occurred. In August 2010 Mickos told The Register that NASA, despite its grumbling, continued to use Eucalyptus. I spoke with Mickos a week ago and NASA remains a Eucalytpus user. (See for yourself at USAspending.gov, which runs on Eucalyptus in NASA's Nebula cloud platform.)

NASA isn't alone in using Eucalyptus. So do more than 25,000 other enterprises, government organizations, and academic institutions. In 2010, roughly 20 per cent of the Fortune 100 kicked Eucalyptus' tires on internal deployments.

These aren't numbers one puts on an obituary. They're numbers more closely associated with an IPO.

It's not that Eucalyptus is perfect, but rather than Mickos and the Eucalyptus team have forged ahead with the thing that matters most to cloud-hungry IT departments: real-world deployments. In a new market, would-be adopters of a technology want the comfort of knowing they're not beta-ware guinea pigs. Though OpenStack has shown a lot of promise, it's still mostly promise, whereas Eucalyptus has been battle-tested for over two years in actual deployments.

This is why Eucalyptus is the upstart that gets mentioned in the same breath as Amazon, Red Hat, and VMware.

It's also why Red Hat has partnered with Eucalyptus. Red Hat is a heavily customer-centric company. If it didn't think Eucalyptus solved real customer needs right now, it wouldn't give Eucalyptus a second thought. Indeed, a year ago when I talked with Red Hat executives there were real doubts expressed about Eucalyptus' technology and strategy. Today those same executives are much more sanguine about Eucalytpus' prospects.

Why the shift? Eucalyptus has focused on building a viable business, with real technology improvements and real customer deployments. So often startups get caught up in meaningless popularity contests that appeal only to the vociferous industry observers who spend $0.00 but can always afford to give their $0.02.

Even now, there are ongoing complaints about so-called "open washing" in Eucalyptus. But not from customers. They're getting work done, and often with Eucalyptus. I'm sure they read the media's concern with cloud-computing lock-in, but then they're buying into VMware, Salesforce, Amazon, and Eucalyptus to solve real business problems.

It's still too early to call a winner in the booming cloud market. Aside from a growing number of customers, Eucalyptus hasn't won anything yet. But in my conversations with Mickos last week, it became clear to me that things were never as bad or as good as the media reported: Eucalyptus was neither a primary cause of climate change nor the cure for cancer.

It's just a technology, and a business, that continues to gain supporters, albeit at an increasing rate of growth. With Mickos at the helm, we probably shouldn't have doubted. ®

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Strobe, a startup that offers an open source framework for building mobile apps. He was formerly chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfreso's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open-source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears twice a week on The Register.

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