Eucalyptus was once "the" open source cloud computing project. It was the core of Ubuntu's cloud strategy, and more or less the only game in town. Unfortunately, it was not a particularly open project. While most of the code was available under an open source license, it wasn't developed in the open and failed to develop much of a community. Eucalyptus Systems is hoping Greg DeKoenigsberg can fix that.

DeKoenigsberg officially joined Eucalyptus earlier this month, as the vice president of community. DeKoenigsberg has actually been working with Eucalyptus for some time on a consulting basis. He wrote about it in early October briefly, though it he wasn't yet a full-time employee.

DeKoenigsberg knows a bit about working with open source communities. He worked with Red Hat from 2001 until May of 2010 to work as CTO for Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME). It wasn't long, though, before DeKoenigsberg decided that education wasn't quite a perfect fit, and he left in July of this year. By phone, DeKoenigsberg said that "education is fascinating, but the drivers are just different. I think there's a difference between code and content and I wasn't feeling that what I was trying to do was going to be successful."

Building a Contributing Community

So DeKoenigsberg is back on familiar turf, but with a daunting task ahead. Eucalyptus competitor OpenStack has displaced Eucalyptus as the default cloud software for Ubuntu, and is sucking most of the oxygen out of the room when it comes to open source cloud software. More than 150 companies have signed up to work on OpenStack, while Eucalyptus is just getting started in trying to build its open source contributor community. DeKoenigsberg's old company is pursuing its own home-grown software for cloud infrastructure. Eucalyptus isn't even mentioned on Fedora's Cloud SIG page.

What will DeKoenigsberg be doing for Eucalyptus? He says that his job is largely one of community building, making sure that the community has what it needs and is on "solid footing."

Part of that is that Eucalyptus needs to figure out its code contribution model, and that the engineering team is visible and working in the open. DeKoenigsberg says that Eucalyptus is also working to set up roadmaps and get plans out for those who are interested in contributing. The team has been involved in outside discussions, says DeKoenigsberg, like the Fedora lists — but there were no lists for Eucalyptus, and the engineering team tended to "go dark" when working towards a major release. Which, coincidentally, they're doing now as they work towards Eucalyptus 3.

Eucalyptus now has a community mailing list for development, started in October. Eucalyptus has also fired up the Eucalyptus Education Channel and has a Fast Start project for getting Eucalyptus up and running quickly for developers and users.

A big part of the job, says DeKoenigsberg will be "take as much of the good work that they've done internally, and let people see what we're doing. That alone is the strongest part of our focus. There's so much going on that people don't know about, because they haven't been able to see the workbench. The goal is to make sure picture people have outside is consistent with the picture inside."

Community Hurdles

Aside from the inertia and mechanics of allowing contributions to Eucalyptus, the project also has a few other hurdles to community involvement. Specifically, the fact that Eucalyptus is not 100% open source and its copyright assignment policy.

The fact that Eucalyptus is "open core" is not only a philosophical problem, it's also a logistical one. Right now, DeKoenigsberg says that it's not "crystal clear" what is and what's not open source. The goal is to make that completely clear, and DeKoenigsberg says the plan for Eucalyptus 3 is to split the handful of proprietary modules out so that it's easier for developers to work on the core of Eucalyptus.

Here's the thing, we came to Linux because we wanted the fight. Cloud is the cool new thing, the great free software fight [...] Linux won. So, you know the next big fight is cloud. Keeping the cloud open.

For example, Windows Guest OS support isn't in the open source release currently. That's sort of a major feature to be missing from the open source release and hoping to get buy-in from the larger community. That's moving to open source in Eucalyptus 3, though. With Eucalyptus 3, some new features and old features will continue to be held back for paying customers, though. For instance, converting VMware images, VMware hypervisor support and SAN adapters for elastic block storage (EBS) and NetApp.

But a bigger problem may be the copyright assignment policy. Copyright assignment tends to be a touchy subject with many developers. DeKoenigsberg says that the copyright assignment may have led to the loss of contributions and "when the time is right, we'll be sitting down and talking about it in more detail. I haven't taken a hard position on that, I haven't had an opportunity to talk to everyone involved. My preference is for a more typical agreement that doesn't assign copyright."

The Next Linux?

A fair number of folks from companies like Red Hat and Novell are migrating to jobs with companies like Eucalyptus, Rackspace, or Amazon to work on cloud projects. I asked DeKoenigsberg why that might be. According to DeKoenigsberg, "that's where the interesting fights are. Here's the thing, we came to Linux because we wanted the fight. Cloud is the cool new thing, the great free software fight [...] Linux won. So, you know the next big fight is cloud. Keeping the cloud open. It's just where the opportunities are, you know?"

Building community is not an easy task, and it's made much more difficult when a company tries to encourage contributors after processes are in place. It's also difficult around single-vendor projects where one company makes most of the decisions. It will be interesting to see how far Eucalyptus succeeds in getting contributors outside its own walls.