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Mickos: What's bigger than open source?

Marten Mickos is on to the next big thing, which turns out to be a combination of the old big thing (open source) and cloud computing.

When Marten Mickos resigned from Sun Microsystems after selling MySQL to Sun for $1 billion, I asked him what he was going to do next. He answered with a question, "What's bigger than open source?" and then suggested that his search for an answer would lead him to his next job.

One year later, Mickos has rejoined the open-source world...but not really.

As the new CEO of open-source cloud vendor Eucalyptus, Mickos isn't looking to merely mimic his MySQL success. This isn't Open-Source Start-up Part II.

Rather, Mickos wants to reach for the clouds, as it were, though it's not cloud technology that energizes him so much as it is his quest to "make efficient use of the collective intelligence of human beings on this planet" through businesses that "help turn our planet into a giant parallel computer."

If that sounds bigger than open source, it's because it is. Much bigger.

Cloud computing, fueled by open source, is a chance for Mickos to blend two massive industry trends in a way that harnesses collective intelligence in interesting and innovative ways.

The fun, however, is that the market is so wide open, as he told me:

We have small start-ups doing cloud computing, and we have some of the midsized growing companies doing it, and we have the giants starting to do it.

It's like sailing boats and ships setting sail towards a new destination. Some boats are still just thinking about departure. Others are hoisting their sails (still being unsure exactly what sails to hoist). Some are already moving. The boats come in all shapes and sizes.

It's unclear in what order the boats and ships will reach the destination. That's what's so much fun about it.

I want to be on one of the boats--one that represents the newest in sailing technology, has a lot of sail area in proportion to the size of the boat, and has a great crew.

That's Eucalyptus.

When Mickos joined MySQL as its CEO, the company helped to create the Web database market amid an established enterprise database market. He chartered new waters but had Oracle and IBM to serve as buoys and beacons by which to guide the MySQL ship.

This time it's different. This time no one knows exactly where cloud computing is going, and no one has figured out the right model. Eucalyptus currently uses the increasingly maligned "open-core model," but Mickos can change it to whatever makes sense for Eucalyptus' growing community.

Mickos is a smart guy. He has deep institutional knowledge of the industry. For Eucalyptus to be wildly successful, it's going to have to be bigger than just open source, as The VAR Guy points out, i.e., bigger than just an open license attached to otherwise ordinary software. Customers pay for value, and that value, as Mickos thinks, sits at the nexus of cloud, open-source, and collective computing.