Does Eucalyptus give HP carte blanche on AWS compatibility?

When Hewlett-Packard announced its acquisition of Eucalyptus Thursday, many (raising hand here) figured that compatibility with Amazon’s cloud was a big part of the motivation. Eucalyptus offers private cloud technology that supports Amazon Web Services APIs.

Since [company]AWS[/company] is the public cloud market leader by far, many other cloud providers see compatibility with the mother ship as a bonus. Cloudscaling, Eucalyptus, Nebula all support at least some AWS APIs. OpenStack itself offers some level of AWS compatibility but some implementors, Rackspace, for example, have opted not to expose that to customers.

One reason could be that the legalities around API use by third parties is about as clear as mud. [company]Oracle[/company] sued [company]Google[/company] over its use of Java APIs and a federal judge reversed a lower court ruling to find that APIs are copyrightable. But that finding– some parts of which may be re-tried —  rippled through the cloud community.

[company]HP[/company] itself has been on both sides of AWS API compatibility. Last year it quietly dropped plans to offer Amazon EC2 API support in its public cloud, but again since it is basing its Helion public, private and hybrid cloud on OpenStack, it could conceivably just rely on OpenStack for gut level compatibility.

Mårten Mickos, former CEO of [company]Eucalyptus[/company] and now SVP and GM of HP Cloud has said that Eucalyptus developed its functionality, “including the AWS API compatibility, on its own, without code or specs from anyone else, and without the need for any license. The code is free and open source software, available to the whole world.”

Last May, he told me the following vis-a-vis Eucalyptus’ AWS API support:

We did not have to get [a] license, but we did get one. We have belts and suspenders. We built the API compatibility in a way that cannot be contested. But we also got a license from Amazon as part of our business partnership.

Structure 2012: Marten Mickos - CEO, Eucalyptus Systems
Marten Mickos at Structure 2012. (c) 2012 Pinar Ozger

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It’s possible that AWS could make trouble over this — I’ve reached out to them for comment and will update this as needed.  If it decided to do so, much could depend on the contract Eucalyptus negotiated.

Said the exec of one cloud vendor who’s been through the process: “[company]Amazon[/company] is anything but generous on API licensing, which is counterintuitive because it hasn’t aggressively defended it.”  He added that he has no idea what will happen with API support post acquisition but would be “shocked if it transferred. No decent lawyer would have let that happen.”

Another third-party with experience in these negotiations had a slightly different take. In his view, a contract would typically “specifically include a term around assignment or change of control, so it’d really be down to how they negotiated it,” he said via email. “I’m sure Mickos knows what he’s doing so I’d hope they got proper terms there and HP would have checked it out in its due diligence process. I hope. Cough, Autonomy, cough.”

For more on this issue, check out Gartner cloud analyst Lydia Leong’s  blog post.

So there’s a potential legal hornet nest which may or may not erupt. But above and beyond that, there’s the hard technical stuff.

HP could conceivably keep offering Eucalyptus as is indefinitely, I guess. More likely it will somehow munge parts of it into its Helion OpenStack distribution. And the integration of stuff from one cloud framework into another brings its own considerable challenges.

I love how people just assume @HP will be able to “pull out” the AWS API work @eucalyptus did and slap it on #OpenStack. Very naïve.

Or, as has also been speculated, the Eucalyptus deal could be pure aqui-hire to get Mickos —  a known speaker with open-source cred from his days as MySQL CEO — and his team of about 70 employees. If that’s the case, all this discussion around AWS API support may be moot.

For more on the deal check out this week’s Structure Show podcast with Martin Fink, Mårten Mickos, and Bill Hilf.

Note: This story was updated at 10:14 a.m. PST to add reference to Lydia Leong’s blog post.