What Ubuntu’s Move to OpenStack Means for Eucalyptus

This week, the Ubuntu project announced that “future versions of Ubuntu Cloud will use OpenStack as a foundation technology,” apparently replacing Eucalyptus as the enabling infrastructure behind Ubuntu’s cloud capabilities. Eucalyptus does not (yet) appear to have been dropped completely, and existing deployments will definitely be supported for the next few years. But this is the latest in a series of setbacks for the platform, and it is becoming increasingly unclear whether it has a compelling future.

Version 1.0 of Eucalyptus‘ open-source cloud infrastructure solution emerged from the University of California, Santa Barbara in May 2008; it went on to power NASA’s innovative Nebula Cloud, ship globally alongside Ubuntu Linux and on Dell servers, and launch over 25,000 clouds of all sizes. Then NASA looked elsewhere for its cloud computing solution, Ubuntu got increasingly close to OpenStack and the whole picture began to look a lot less favorable as Eucalyptus lost out again and again to OpenStack and others.

It is, however, important to distinguish the Eucalyptus project from the commercial Eucalyptus Systems. The latter sells services around the core software. That particular business — headed by former MySQL boss Marten Mickos and Eucalyptus project lead Rich Wolski — should continue to offer a viable set of services to companies requiring a cloud-computing solution, regardless of the other channels by which the project code itself may or may not be made available for download.

Eucalyptus benefited from the outset because it was designed around an API that performed almost identically to Amazon’s. Organizations were able to test applications on Eucalyptus and then push them live on Amazon Web Services, or vice versa. They could also run core applications in-house on Eucalyptus, and draw upon additional compute capacity from Amazon when required without having to invest in significant rewriting of their code. As Amazon Web Services grew in reach and ubiquity, Eucalyptus should have been well positioned to address the hybrid- and private-cloud markets.

Partnerships such as those with Ubuntu and Dell should have made Eucalyptus difficult to miss for anyone seeking their own cloud infrastructure solution, but Eucalyptus consistently failed to attract lasting and widespread attention of the sort that OpenStack did almost from the moment it launched in July of last year. OpenStack has signed up over 60 supporting companies including Microsoft, GigaSpaces and Cisco. It is replacing the code beneath the Rackspace Cloud product and powering private-cloud installations at big enterprise customers such as AT&T.

This week’s announcement sees OpenStack replace Eucalyptus as an integral of Ubuntu Cloud. Although it is made clear that Eucalyptus “will be supported by Canonical,” the announcement appears deliberately vague about how easy it will be for future customers to choose between OpenStack and Eucalyptus. OpenStack is described as a “core part,” while Eucalyptus merely “will continue to be available for download.”

Joe Panettieri of Talkin’Cloud suggests that Canonical is “trying to be tactful” in not issuing an announcement that explicitly dumps Eucalyptus in favor of OpenStack. The ambiguity, however, is not helpful. Over at CloudAve, Krishnan Subramanian describes the announcement as the finalization of Canonical’s “slow divorce” from Eucalyptus, and welcomes it as a “smart move.” At Eucalyptus Systems, CEO Mårten Mickos puts a brave face on the announcement, expressing disappointment with the decision while promising continued support for those areas of the Ubuntu codebase that Canonical is phasing out.

Smart move or not, rejection by the Ubuntu project is a clear blow to Eucalyptus’ credibility. OpenStack’s rise has been given yet another significant boost, and the Eucalyptus project must surely be left wondering where its future might lie. Is it worth continuing to develop code for a shrinking niche market, or is there more value to be gained in porting the best of Eucalyptus’ ideas to OpenStack? Eucalyptus is used today by big customers like Puma, and much rests on whether or not Mickos and his team can persuade those customers to stick with the company. Whether as a provider of professional services around Eucalyptus or as a competitor to OpenStack’s Cloud Builders, there will still be plenty of work for Eucalyptus Systems to do, even if it makes the brave — but painful — decision to let its own baby fade into cloud-computing history.

Question of the week

Should the open source community concentrate on just one cloud infrastructure solution, or continue to develop several?