Marten Mickos Gets a Buzz Cut and Eucalyptus Starts Hitting its Stride

Eucalyptus Systems CEO Mårten Mickos made a bet with his engineering team. Beat the deadline for the next release and he’d let them shave his head, complete with the Eucalyptus logo.

The engineering team won. And Marten got a shave with a nice big “Eucalyptus 3,” logo on the side and back of his head.

Mickos is a superstar in the tech world. He earned his fame as the CEO of MySQL AB, one of the legendary companies of modern tech history. Sun Microsystems bought the company in 2008 for $1 billion.

But the path is different for every company and Eucalyptus is no exception. Founded in 2009 by a group of professors from the University of California at Santa Barbara, the company gained a place as the first open source technology for companies to build cloud infrastructures.

Eucalyptus hired Mickos in March 2010. But by the summer, the tone of the market had changed. The company had a very public falling out with the OpenStack community and vendor rivals.

“They said so many things,” Mickos said. “I have been collecting them so I can say ‘here is what you said.'”

Engineers on the team took some offense. Mickos told his group it was not insulting but a validation of their work.

“If your competitors are bashing you, it is a sign of respect and envy,” Mickos said. “It shows how much they are obsessed with you.”

Instead of fighting, Mickos said he took a book from “The Art of War,” by Sun Tzu. Don’t go into battle when you are attacked. Choose your own time to battle.

“Engaging in a public PR fight is never useful,” he said. “Let them spend their marketing dollars on their fancy marketing and PR programs.”

Instead, he instructed his team to come back with something that will take rivals years to replicate. And that’s the high availability (HA) now included in Eucalyptus 3.

He compares the HA to an organism that has two hearts. The organism is connected and knows when it fails. It knows the health of its counterpart. The HA system can determine which rack is in charge. If a rack goes down, a new rack will immediately take over.

“It is like having two v8s in the same engine,” Mickos said.

The HA system keeps double copies for any vital function. For example, there are doubles for the node controller, the cloud controller and the cluster controller. The systems are synchronized and communicate in real-time.  It becomes a philosophical and mathematical problem. It’s like working with a split brain. What if each side of the brain thinks the other has died?  There has to be some signal to communicate to know if one is alive or both are still healthy.

The system is designed for failure. It assumes that the customer will run commodity hardware and that it will fail. With HA, the system can move the load elsewhere if one of the racks dies.

With HA in place, Eucalyptus is now building its community. Mickos believes the company is positioned for that shift. Back in 2010, the company had 12 employees. Today, about 70 people are employed by the company.

With any startup, growth means change.

Last week, Co-Founder Woody Rollins, who previously held the CFO role, has been appointed to Chief Talent Officer.  In his place, Eucalyptus hired’s Ning Wang as its Chief Financial Officer.

Rollins has always been like a father figure of the team, Mickos said. He had to take on the role of CFO. The new job is similar to what he did when the company started.

In November, the company hired Red Hat’s Greg DeKoenigsberg as vice president of community.

DeKoenigsberg role reflects the new focus on community development which Mickos defimes broadly. It’s the open-source community, the blogs, the tweets. The job is a strategic one.

“He has a strategic role in the company,” Mickos said.

The growth of the company is in its customer base, too. The company had more than 25,000 cloud starts last year that were installed and put into production. And it added 30 reference accounts in U.S. and international markets.

“We added more reference accounts than any of our competitors,” Mickos said.

VMware is the company’s main competitor with vCloud Director, which has far fewer reference accounts. VMware is also a partner. Otherwise, it sees Citrix and a number of projects, including OpenStack efforts, as competitors.

That’s no doubt due to the product’s maturity. And it’s also reflective of the company’s decision to integrate with Amazon Web Services (AWS). Customers can move loads back and forth to AWS and vice versa.

Eucalyptus supports all major hypervisors, including VMware, which is where the partnership comes into place.

Services Angle

Eucalyptus is a complex software. It is the layer on top of heterogeneous infrastructure. And it needs to provide reliability. Hand holding is needed.  Ecualyptus offers support through the whole chain of engagement from the trial period to implementation. Support is a critical aspect of what the company does but it is not a services company. Instead, Eucalyptus would prefer to team with systems integrators.

Momentum SI is one of the first Eucalyptus worked with and others have followed. In particular, Eucalyptus works with outsourcers and systems integrators in India, where there is strong talent in the disciplines needed to build a cloud infrastructure.

Mickos divides customers into two camps. Those that grew up using the public cloud and others that have a data center.

Companies that grew up in the Web world need help in setting up a data center. They ask about network topology and mostly need help on the hardware side. The CIOs  that run the data centers need more help in areas like developing DevOps practices. They need help in learning how to marry practices and getting the teams to work together.

The cloud does pose ironies. We mostly hear about companies going to the public cloud. But as we have seen with companies like Zynga, there is an increasing need to build out data centers independent of a public cloud infrastructure.