Chris Kemp, NASA’s CTO for IT, closed out yesterday’s Cloud/Gov conference in DC with a discussion of Nebula, NASA’s open-source cloud-in-a-shipping-container, and the impact it has had on the agency. Kemp was greeted with the most enthusiasm from the audience that any of the speakers got, including whoops from some of the government employees and vendors in the audience, and for good reason: Nebula has become the gravitational center of cloud standards efforts within and outside the government.
“While (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) is talking about standards, there are defacto standards that are evolving right now,” Kemp said. And Nebula, he said, “is a reference implementation of what NIST is doing.”
The Nebula project’s code has become the core of the OpenStack initiative, the open-source cloud infrastructure software project, and now is maintained by a community that includes Intel, AMD, Dell, Rackspace, and an army of other technology companies. “There are over 1000 developers that have submitted features and bug fixes,” Kemp said, “and over 100 companies. If you’re interested in doing a cloud, you can download OpenStack today. It’s the Linux of the cloud–it gives you an environment you can actually develop on and meet a requirement, and build your environment on, on a platform that’s compatible with everything in the industry.”
Kemp said that he believed that the public cloud could be as secure as private clouds, but that private clouds were a “necessary stepping stone” to the day when NASA didn’t have to be in the IT business, to demonstrate that cloud environments could be completely secure. And by moving to a private cloud, agencies were doing the majority of the work required to get them to the point where they can move to a public cloud infrastructure.
“Once you virtualize an application, you’re more than halfway there,” Kemp said. “Every agency that builds a private cloud takes us 90% of the way to where we’ll be able to put everything in the public cloud.”
Still, Kemp said, it will be decades before agencies are able to make that jump completely. “We’ve only scratched the surface of this. We still have mainframe systems running that were coded in the ’70’s. They’re systems we just haven’t taken the time to make run in Oracle or SQL Server . Moving something to cloud is a thousand times bigger a challenge.” The only apps that have been written to take advantage of the features of cloud so far are apps that were written for the cloud to begin with, such as Google’s apps, and Zynga’s game platforms.
Kemp emphasized that cloud infrastructure and data center consolidation were not synonymous. “One thing that I hope happens is that you treat data center consolidation and cloud as separate things. If you’re virtualizing existing applications, you need the support of commercial systems. But if you’re doing really pioneering development, and can’t use Amazon, then you need something like (Nebula).”
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