@Matt, the only failure is your article... and here's why.
Lets start with your preamble:
"The intent? Make a bunch of money from one of the industry's most important technologies, one used by a Who's Who of enterprises. The likely outcome? Utter failure."
If you made that statement about a start up in general, you'd have a safe bet. Most start-ups fizzle before anyone knows that they existed. Spin-offs? Even Spin-offs have a high failure rate.
But if Yahoo! spun off their Hadoop work, there is a high chance of success.
1) Access to capital. As you said... Yahoo! would retain a large share of the company and it also has a lot of capital so outside funding wouldn't necessarily be needed.
2) Brand recognition. Yahoo! definitely has a name and any spin off would equally get a lot of good publicity out of the gate.
3) Existing product. Yahoo! has been a major contributor of code to Hadoop. Sure Cloudera has been in this space and had already built up their ecosystem. But Yahoo! also has a lot of internal efforts that are critical to commercializing Hadoop. (Did you read the MR2 blogs?)
Of course you are right. A Yahoo! spin off would still be missing key core components that would be necessary for success.
A) Executive guidance and leadership.
B) Infrastructure for Support
C) Technical Writing Staff
E) Professional Services Expertise
F) Professional Sales Team / Marketing
All of these areas are essential and if any Yahoo! spin off hits on these, it could easily out perform Cloudera. (Yes, I know a lot of the guys at Cloudera...)
To your point that Cloudera has already established themselves, yes that's true.
But its also true that being first to market doesn't always mean that you'll end up on top. ;-)
I'll wager that if Yahoo! looks outside of the Silicon Valley and taps the right people on the shoulder... they can outperform Cloudera and gain a serious chunk of market share.
They question you have to ask yourself. Can a Yahoo! spin off company provide better service and value than Cloudera? If so, they will do well.
But what do I know?