SugarCRM's John Roberts on the Open Cloud

SugarCRM has gone from 3 developers, 154 members, and 396 downloads of its open source customer relationship management software in June 2004 to 40 engineers, 450,000 users, 5.2 million downloads, and the key metric: 55,000 active systems. As co-founder and CEO John Roberts delivered the opening keynote at the SugurCon 2009 developer conference in San Francisco, he showed the growth in a series of cascading dots spreading across the US, Europe, and Asia.

With the economic meltdown in full swing, Roberts sees an opportunity for what he calls the Open Cloud, where a combination of unique value services and squeezing cost out will ride the cloud computing wave. As he pointed out in a conversation embedded below, open source has always been about the cloud, a vast army of disconnected programmers iteratively building a platform of free services with the kind of commercial open source strategy popularized by JBoss and MySQL.

Sun’s $1 billion plus acquisition of MySQL may not be in the cards for SugarCRM, says Roberts, who is betting on an IPO two years down the road when the crisis lifts. In the meantime, he’s bankrolling ongoing development of over 600 projects, or modules, via the company’s 4500 paying customers. He doesn’t attack Salesforce by name, but his frequent messaging about lock in via proprietary services is as unmistakable as Marc Benioff’s frequent jousts with Microsoft.

With the release of its Sugar Cloud Connectors framework in December 2008 and connectors for Hoover’s, Jigsaw, LinkedIn, and new additions Zoominfo and our own Crunchbase, more and more Web services endpoints are now being stitched together into a quilt of on-demand data services. Roberts suggests that there’s plenty of room for the various flavors of open and commercial. Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, who keynotes Tuesday’s session, is counting on Roberts being right.