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By | Cade Metz 29th April 2009 11:02

Ubuntu's Koala food hits open-source supermarket

Eucalyptus in a can

After hitching a ride on the new Ubuntu, Eucalyptus has followed the Koala-fixated Linux distro into the world of commercialized open source.

Today, the creators of the open-source cloud compute platform announced the formation of Eucalyptus Systems Inc., a Santa Barbara, California-based company that will float private clouds for high-flying businesses and fluff them as needed. Using the same API as the much-hyped Amazon Web Services, the Eucalyptus platform provides a means of mimicking Amazon's public cloud inside your own data center - but on a (much) smaller scale.

"Eucalyptus is the Linux analogy for cloud computing," says Rich Wolski, the University of California-Santa Barbara computer science prof who dreamed up the project and now serves as the new company's chief technology officer. "It's open source. There’s an active community. There's an ecosystem of people who are targeting it because it’s easy to use and easy to install. And it comes through the standard Linux channel they're used to."

Eucalyptus can trace its roots back to the fall of 2007, when Wolski was part of a multi-university academic project known as VGrADS (virtual grid application development software), an effort to create a programming and execution environment for greasing the development of large-scale scientific applications. Large-scale applications require large-scale compute resources.

"We had looked at using grid computing and super computers for running scientific apps," Wolski tells The Reg. "But in the last year of the project, we decided we really needed to figure out how we were going move forward into the cloud-computing world."

The distinction between the grid and the cloud is a subtle one. But in essence, Wolski and his fellow researchers were interested in harnessing the power of AWS, a set of web-based services that provide instant access to distributed resources, including processing power and storage. As you need additional compute power, you grab it - straight from an ordinary web browser.

At one point, Wolski decided the project should demonstrate an app running seamlessly across three separate infrastructures: AWS, a National Science Foundation super computer, and a set of private clusters spread across various universities. The group committed to a demo at the SC super computing conference the following November, and with that deadline looming, Wolski and crew settled on building their own incarnation of AWS, wrapping the new platform in Amazon's published APIs.

"In order to make the job of porting our application easier, we decided to build a software infrastructure for our university clusters that could mimic the way Amazon worked," Wolski explains. "The lead application code and the abstraction layer - both of those software stacks were very complicated and large. Rather than have to port to a third infrastructure, we ported to AWS and then imitated AWS on our own clusters."

This AWS imitation became Eucalyptus, which was eventually open-sourced under a BSD license. With Eucalyptus, anyone can build their own AWS - of a kind.

Eucalyptus feeds Koala (and vice versa)

"One of the misconceptions about Eucalyptus is that it is able to allow an org to compete with Amazon," Wolski says. "The Amazon AWS cloud is far more than a collection of software components. It operates on a gigantic scale, multiple time zones, multiple data centers, human resources that must be committed to maintain it so it can operate at that scale. It's not likely - maybe even impossible - that you're going to download something from the internet that is going to be able to operate at that scale. Eucalyptus can’t really be used for that purpose."

Instead, the platform is a means of building what people insist on calling a private cloud - an AWS-like service for use within the enterprise.

Backed by $5.5m of first-round funding, the new Eucalyptus Systems Inc. will help businesses build and service such private clouds - and perhaps more. "Ultimately, I think we’ll be able to build add-on functionality to the open-source base that specifically targets needs within commercial enterprises," Wolski explains. "But for now, we're going offer services and support consulting, to try to understand what the commercial sector needs."

A reasonable plan. But one has to wonder if the use of the Amazon API will come back to haunt the company. Amazon has sidestepped our questions about the use of its API by third-party infrastructure cloud platforms, and it has done much the same with Wolski. "I was at meeting where someone brought me together with someone from Amazon AWS...They were asked directly 'What do you think?' and they said 'No comment.' Which is OK. If we were told to stop, we would. But so far, they have remain silent."

At the time of writing, Amazon doesn't seem to realize Wolski's project has gone commercial. But even when it does, Wolski is confident that the etail giant will see the platform as a compliment to AWS - not a competitor. "Eucalyptus is really a tool that acts as an on-ramp, so that people can use it as a development environment or a way to go into Amazon from their own local resources," he says.

Rich Wolski

Rich Wolski

Wolski also pitches the platform as a path to the so-called hybrid cloud model, where applications span both AWS and internal data-center resources. "You can move images back and forth. You can select and run the same software in either environment, from the machine management perspective and the storage perspective."

Since its debut in late May of last year, Eucalyptus has witnessed over 14,000 downloads. But Wolski expects a much larger uptake with the release of Ubuntu Jaunty Jackalope, which includes the open-source cloud platform as part of its Universe archive. And you can expect tight integration with the Shuttleworthian Linux for years to come. The follow-on to Jackalope is code-named Karmic Koala. Eucalyptus. Koala. Marc Shuttleworth is trying to tell you something.

"It's no coincidence that Eucalyptus has just been uploaded to universe and will be part of Jaunty - during the Karmic cycle we expect to make those clouds dance, with dynamically growing and shrinking resource allocations depending on your needs," was the word from the founder of Canonical, the commercial arm of the Ubuntu project.

And it's no coincidence that Eucalyptus has suddenly commercialized itself. ®

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