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Amazon Makes Clever Private Cloud Play

Partnership with Eucalyptus, the open-source purveyor of Amazon APIs, guarantees ongoing compatibility between public EC2 and private cloud operations.

In a savvy bid to make its cloud a de facto standard, Amazon Web Services has given its blessing to an open-source version of its APIs produced by Eucalyptus Systems. In a clear signal that it will not challenge Eucalyptus for infringing on its property, Amazon is in fact partnering with the company. Eucalyptus supplies on-premises cloud-launching software that can mobilize APIs that are a match for Amazon's major services.

Amazon could back away from the move at a later date, but it's unlikely. On the contrary, Amazon appears to have decided that small and midsize companies and large enterprises building out private clouds should be its natural ally.

That means an enterprise that develops its private cloud using Eucalyptus will have built-in compatibility across several Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud services, including EC2 compute and S3 storage. Such compatibility would be an advantage to companies that want to use the public cloud for websites and some types of customer service and other public-facing processing while maintaining a more guarded and managed set of cloud services in their own data center.

Doubters wondered whether Eucalyptus hadn't jumped the gun in being early to market with Amazon-compatible APIs. The risk was service giant Amazon would dismiss Eucalyptus as an interloper and find a way to make its APIs incompatible, or worse, take it to court for infringement. The Eucalyptus APIs sprang out of an open-source project at the University of California at Santa Barbara, led by Professor Rich Wolski, now CTO of the firm. But the APIs have stood both the test of time and of Amazon's patience.

"This agreement is going to accelerate our roadmap and help us maintain our compatibility with AWS," said Eucalyptus CEO Marten Mickos in a prepared statement on the announcement.

Instead of viewing them as potential competitors, Amazon has come to view Eucalyptus as an ally in consolidating its hold on the public infrastructure as a service market. With Eucalyptus installed inside enterprise data centers, its customers have a way to build their private clouds without disrupting their Amazon Web Services relationship.

[ Want to learn more about a key Open Stack implementer from NASA? See Nebula Wants To Be iPhone Of The Data Center. ]

Whether Amazon's blessing was given in a timely manner may be another question. Amazon has shown little interest in joining open-source projects or sharing the benefits of its dominant position by opening up its own APIs for use by corporate developers. And it was outside its business plan to package up its own software and sell it for installation inside the enterprise.

With no action on that front, another open-source effort has gained traction as an alternative: Rackspace, a would-be Amazon competitor coming out of the hosted services field, launched its own infrastructure-as-a-service, then teamed up with NASA to form the Open Stack project.

Open Stack attracted more support than Eucalyptus did because it was conceived on a scale that allows its backers to become public cloud services suppliers themselves should they choose to. Cisco Systems, Citrix Systems, Oracle, Intel, AMD, Dell, Brocade, HP, NTT, and NetApp are among its members. The project claims 155 company participants to date, many of them code contributors.

At the recent Cloud Connect event in Santa Clara, the question was repeatedly raised in sessions: how close were Open Stack APIs to Amazon's? There was no simple, succinct answer. But several parties, including Cisco's CTO for cloud Lew Tucker, observed that the Open Stack technologists were broadly patterning their APIs on Amazon's. They weren't compatible and they'd never be accused of infringement; on the other hand, it wouldn't that hard to translate between the two.

Such is Amazon's dominance in the public cloud market. Those who might want to compete with it don't stray too far from its example. Amazon in turn understands that it has so successfully established--with Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and others--the model of a cloud data center model that thousands of companies want to emulate it.

The conflict for Amazon, according to Adam Selipsky, VP of business development, was that they didn't want to encourage private cloud consumption; they wanted businesses to get cloud services from EC2. In fact, Amazon officials have repeatedly said that the only real form of cloud computing is the public cloud, juggling thousands of different workloads across a massive infrastructure.

Now that Amazon has partnered with Eucalyptus, it's got a different story. There is such a thing as the private cloud--and it's a good thing, especially when it operates in conjunction with EC2.

[ Editor's Note: A spokeswoman for Amazon Web Services says we misrepresented VP Adam Selipsky in comments we attributed to him in this story. We didn’t interview Selipsky for this story but drew on comments he made at a past industry event. The spokeswoman says , "AWS views [on private cloud] have not altered. The agreement with Eucalyptus is about enabling customers to more efficiently migrate workloads between their existing data centers and AWS while using the same management tools and skills across both environments." ]

We'll find out next month how many other private cloud backers feel the same way. The Open Stack Summit will convene April 16-18 in San Francisco, with additions expected to be announced to its code base. Rackspace, HP, NTT Communications, Nebula, ServiceMesh, HyperStratus, Piston, CloudScaling, and Softlayer will take notice and be unlikely to abandon their Open Stack-based strategies in favor of Amazon's APIs. Open Stack is gaining not only traction but a head of steam.

But Amazon has just given thousands of budding private cloud builders pause to reconsider. If they can get an Amazon-compatible cloud the first time they try--and still avoid lock-in; it's now open-source code--why not do it? Open Stack is progressing fast, but it's still a work in progress. By endorsing Eucalyptus, Amazon has given a tacit promise of assistance on continued compatibility. It's ready for more long-term relationships with Eucalyptus customers if they want Amazon cloud services as an option. Amazon has just closed a circuit that had been left dangling. Amazon APIs are proprietary and not a du jure standard; they may never be. But they just took a step closer to becoming a de facto standard inside the corporate data center as well as out.

The pay-as-you go nature of the cloud makes ROI calculation seem easy. It’s not. Also in the new, all-digital Cloud Calculations InformationWeek supplement: Why infrastructure-as-a-service is a bad deal. (Free registration required.)

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