eucalyptus_logo_awhBack in October 2009, I wrote a bit about Eucalyptus Systems -- which develops open-source cloud computing software. In some ways, it's positioned as an open, private cloud alternative to Amazon Web Services. Fast forward to the present, and Eucalyptus seems to be showing some momentum. Here's an update, including perspectives from Eucalyptus CTO and co-founder Rich Wolski.

For starters, Eucalyptus says downloads of their free edition have reached 15,000 a month. I realize free downloads don't always lead to revenue. But the figure is nonetheless impressive.

No one expected Eucalyptus to get so big so fast, let alone Wolski. The Eucalyptus effort started as a research project at UC Santa Barbara, and the thought of going commercial never crossed his mind.

Wolski and his team were simply interested in creating an open-source platform for universities to do what Amazon Web Services does. In early 2008, though, they released an early version of “Elastic Utility Computing Architecture for Linking Your Programs to Useful Systems," or "Eucalyptus," and received a little bit coverage in trade press. A day later, Facebook called - they wanted to know if Wolski and his research team were looking for a job.

For the next few months, Wolski's phone rang off the hook with offers of employment. Eventually, the team knew it was time to either commercialize Eucalyptus or walk away, leaving only the open source code that had already been released and moving onto the next project.

As you can guess, they decided to commercialize - as we wrote about here - and went looking for a corporate partner. In December 2008, Canonical approached them for what has turned out to be a mutually beneficial relationship.

Now, in addition to being bundled with every installation of Ubuntu 9.10 Server Edition, MSPs and their end-customers can download the open-source version of Eucalyptus for free. The percentage of free users who monetize by going to the bigger-scalable, AWS-compatible Eucalyptus Enterprise Edition is beyond Wolski's predictions -- though MSPmentor needs to dig a bit deeper to get a feel for how Eucalyptus is doing financially.

In 2010, Eucalyptus is going to focus more on refining what they have and finding new business opportunities, Wolski said. But the eventual goal is to become to the cloud what Linux is to desktop operating systems: the free, customizable alternative platform that has the potential to put gray hair on the bigger, better-funded competition's heads.