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HP buys Eucalyptus

In an interesting move that seems to be predominantly an acquihire, HP has bought Eucalyptus for an undisclosed sum, though speculation is that the deal’s under $100m, less than a 2x multiple on what Eucalyptus has raised in funding (although that would still be a huge multiple on revenue).

Out of this, HP gets Eucalyptus’s CEO, Marten Mickos, who will be installed as the head of HP’s cloud business, reporting to Meg Whitman. It also gets Eucalyptus’s people, including its engineering staff, whom they believe to really have expertise in what HP termed (in a discussion with myself and a number of other Gartner colleagues) the “Amazon architectural pattern”. Finally, it gets Eucalyptus’s software, although this seems to have been very secondary to the people and their know-how — unsurprising given HP’s commitment to OpenStack at the core of HP Helion.

Eucalyptus will apparently be continuing onward within HP. Mickos had indicated something of a change in direction previously, when he explained in a blog post why he would be keynoting an OpenStack conference. It seems like Eucalyptus had been headed in the direction of being an open-source cloud management platform (CMP) that provides an AWS API-compatible framework over a choice of underlying components, including OpenStack component options. In this context, it makes sense to have a standalone Eucalyptus product / add-on, providing an AWS-compatible private cloud software option to customers for whom this is important — and it sidesteps the OpenStack community debate on whether or not AWS compatibility should be important within OpenStack itself.

HP did not answer my direct question if Eucalyptus’s agreement with Amazon includes a change-of-control clause, but they did say that partnerships require ongoing collaboration between the two parties. I interpreted that to mean that AWS has some latitude to determine what they do here. The existing partnership has been an API licensing deal — specifically, AWS has provided Eucalyptus with engineering communications around their API specifications, without any technology transfer or documentation. The partnership been important to ensuring that Eucalyptus replicates AWS behavior as closely as possible, so the question of whether AWS continues to partner going forward is likely important to the fidelity of future Eucalyptus work.

It’s important to note that Eucalyptus is by no means a full AWS clone. It offers the EC2, S3, and IAM APIs, including relatively full support for EC2 features such as EBS. However, it does not support the VPC networking features. And of course, it’s missing the huge array of value-added capabilities that surround the basic compute and storage resources. It’s not as if HP or anyone else is going to take Eucalyptus and build a service that is seriously competitive to AWS. Eucalyptus had mostly found its niche serving SMBs who wanted to run a CMP that would support the most common AWS compute capabilities, either in a hybrid cloud mode (i.e., for organizations still doing substantial things in AWS) or as an on-prem alternative to public cloud IaaS.

Probably importantly to the future success of HP Helion and OpenStack, though, Mickos’s management tenure at Eucalyptus included turning the product from its roots as a research project, into much slicker commercial software that was relatively easy to install and run, without requiring professional services for implementation. He also turned its sales efforts to focus on SMBs with a genuine cloud agility desire, rather than chasing IT operations organizations looking for a better virtualization mousetrap (another example of bimodal IT thinking). Eucalyptus met with limited commercial success — but thus far, CloudStack and OpenStack haven’t fared much better. This has been, at least in part, a broader issue with the private cloud market and the scope of capabilities of the open-source products.

Of the many leaders that HP could have chosen for its cloud division, the choice of Mickos is an interesting one; he’s best known for being CEO of MySQL and eventually selling it to Sun, and thus he makes most sense as a leader in the context of open-source-oriented thinking. I’m not inclined to call the HP-Eucalyptus acquisition a game-changer, but I do think it’s an interesting indicator of HP’s thinking — although it perhaps further muddies waters that are already pretty muddy. The cloud strategies of IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and VMware, for instance, are all very clear to me. HP hasn’t reached that level of crispness, even if they insist that they’ve got a plan and are executing on it.

Edit: Marten Mickos contacted in me in email to clarify the Amazon/Eucalyptus partnership, and to remind me that MySQL was sold to Sun, not Oracle. I’ve made the corrections.

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Reflections on the OpenStack Atlanta summit

When I wrote a research note called Don’t Let OpenStack Hype Distort Your Selection of a Cloud Management Platform in 2012, in September 2012, I took quite a bit of flak in public for my statements about OpenStack’s maturity. At the time, I felt that the industry was about 18 to 24 months from the point where real commercial adoption of OpenStack would begin. It now looks like I made the right call — 20 months have passed since I wrote that note, and indeed, OpenStack seems to be on the cusp of that tipping point. OpenStack is truly becoming a business. Last year’s Portland summit was a developer summit. This year’s summit has the feel of a trade show, although of course it’s still a set of working meetings as well as a user conference.

There’s much work to be done still, but things are grinding onwards in an encouraging fashion. The will to solve the common problems of installs, upgrades, and networking seems to have permeated the community sufficiently that these basic elements of usability and stability are getting into the core. The involvement of larger vendors has created a collective determination to do what it takes to make enterprise adoption of OpenStack possible, in due time.

In March of this year, I wrote a new document called An Overview of OpenStack, 2014. It contains the updated Gartner positions on OpenStack — along with practical information for users, like use cases, vendors, and how to select a distro. (No vendor has done a free reprint of the note, so it’s behind the paywall, sorry.) I have no updates to that position after this summit; it has been largely what I expected it to be. However, I did want to comment on what I see as one of the key questions now facing the OpenStack Foundation and contributing vendors.

One of the positions taken in my recent note is a re-iteration of a 2012 position — we believe that OpenStack “will eventually mature into a solid open-source core at the heart of multiple commercial products and services.” One of the key questions that seems to be at hand now is how large that core should be — a fundamental controversy for OpenStack Foundation members, each of whom has a position based on where their company adds value.

At one pole of the spectrum are the vendors who want to maximize the capabilities in OpenStack that are fully open-source — I’ll call them the “more open” camp. (End-users, of course, also all want this.) These vendors typically differentiate in some way that is not the software itself. They do consulting, they are managed services providers, they are cloud IaaS providers, or they are selling some kind of product or service that uses OpenStack under the covers but delivers some other kind of value (NFV, SaaS, and so on). They want the maximum capabilities delivered in the software, and they’re willing to contribute their own work towards this end.

At the other pole of the spectrum are the vendors who intend to sell a cloud management platform (CMP) and need to be able to differentiate — I’ll call them the “more proprietary” camp. That means that there’s the question of “how does a distro differentiate”. It has already been previously argued that installation and upgrades should be left to commercial distributions. At long last it seems to be agreed that for the good of the community at least some of these capabilities need to be decent in the core. The next controversial one seems to be an HA control plane. But it also gets into the broader question of how deep the functionality of OpenStack as a whole should go. Vendors that sell OpenStack software really fall into two broad categories — those that intend to supportively wrap what is essentially vanilla OpenStack (like the Linux vendors), and those who are building a full-fledged CMP (or CMP suite) into which OpenStack may essentially disappear near-invisibly (except for maybe an exposed API), surrounded by a rich fudgy layer of proprietary software (like HP and IBM). Most of these vendors want just enough in the OpenStack open-source to make OpenStack overall successful.

There are nuances here, of course, and many vendors fall somewhere between these two poles, but I think that summarizes the two camps pretty well. Each camp has its own beliefs about what is best for their own companies and what is best for OpenStack. These are legitimate debates about what is “just enough” functionality in OpenStack (and how that “just enough” changes over time), even amongst vendors who occupy the “more proprietary” camp — and whether that “just enough” is sufficient to satisfy the “more open” camp. Indeed, the “more open” camp may find that they cannot get their contributions accepted because the “more proprietary” camp is gatekeeping.

It is critical to note that no vendor I’ve ever spoken to thinks that OpenStack interoperability means that you should be able to easily switch between distributions or OpenStack-based service providers. Rather, the desire is to ensure that there’s enough of an interoperability construct that there can be a viable OpenStack ecosystem — it’s about the ability of ecosystem vendors to interoperate with a variety of OpenStack-based vendors, far more than it is about the user’s ability to interoperate between OpenStack-based solutions. To reiterate another point from my previous research notes: Customers should expect to be no less locked into an OpenStack-based vendor/provider than they would into any other CMP or cloud IaaS provider.

OpenStack, community, and commercialization

I wrote, the other day, about Citrix buying Cloud.com, and I realized I forgot to make an important point about OpenStack versus the various commercial vendors vying for the cloud-building market; it’s worthy of a post on its own.

OpenStack is designed by the community, which is to say that it’s largely designed by committee, with some leadership that represents, at least in theory, the interests of the community and has some kind of coherent plan in mind. It is implemented by the community, which means that people who want to contribute simply do so. If you want something in OpenStack, you can write it and hope that your patches are included, but there’s no guarantee. If the community decides something should be included in OpenStack, they need some committers to agree to actually write it, and hope that they implement it well and do it in some kind of reasonable timeframe.

This is not the way that one normally deals with software vendors, of course. If you’re a potentially large customer and you’d like to use Product X but it doesn’t contain Feature Y that’s really important to you, you can normally say to the vendor, “I will buy X if you had Y within Z timeframe,” and you can even write that into your contract (usually witholding payment and/or preventing the vendor from recognizing the revenue until they do it).

But if you’re a potentially large customer that would happily adopt OpenStack if it just had Feature Y, you have miminal recourse. You probably don’t actually want to write Feature Y yourself, and even if you did, you would have no guarantee that you wouldn’t be maintaining a fork of the code; ditto if you paid some commercial entity (like one of the various ventures that do OpenStack consulting). You could try getting Feature Y through the community process, but that doesn’t really operate on the timeframe of business, nor have any guarantees that it’ll be successful, and also requires you to engage with the community in a way that you may have no interest in doing. And even if you do get it into the general design, you have no control over implementation timeframe. So that’s not really doable for a business that would like to work with a schedule.

There are a growing number of OpenStack startups that aim to offer commercial distributions with proprietary features on top of the community OpenStack core, including Nebula and Piston (by Chris Kemp and Joshua McKenty, respectively, and funded by Kleiner Perkins and Hummer Winblad, respectively, two VCs who usually don’t make dumb bets). Commercial entities, of course, can deal with this “I need to respond to customer needs more promptly than the open source community can manage” requirement.

There are many, many entitities, globally, telling us that they want to offer a commercial OpenStack distribution. Most of these are not significant forks per se (although some plan to fork entirely), but rather plans to pick a particular version of the open source codebase and work from there, in order to try to achieve code stability as well as add whatever proprietary features are their secret source. Over time, that can easily accrete into a fork, especially because the proprietary stuff can very easily clash with whatever becomes part of OpenStack’s own core, given how early OpenStack is in its evolution.

Importantly, OpenStack flavors are probably not going to be like Linux distributions. Linux distributions differ mostly in which package manager they use, what packages are installed by default, and the desktop environment config out of the box — almost cosmetic differences, although there can be non-cosmetic ones (such as when things like virtualization technologies were supported). Successful OpenStack commercial ventures need to provide significant value-add and complete solutions, which, especially in the near term when OpenStack is still a fledgling immature project, will result in a fragmentation of what features can be expected out of a cloud running OpenStack, and possibly significant differences in the implementation of critical underlying functionality.

I predict most service providers will pick commercial software, whether in the form of VMware, Cloud.com, or some commercial distribution of OpenStack. Ditto most businesses making use of cloud stack software to do something significant. But the commercial landscape of OpenStack may turn out to be confusing and crowded.

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