cloud computing, Enterprise IT, NASA, sticky, tech

Chris Kemp Quits, as Fed Budget and Inertia Beat Govtrepeneurs Down

Chris Kemp, who had a few short weeks ago been greeted with rockstar fervor at the Cloud/Gov conference in Washington, DC, has stepped down from his role as NASA’s Chief Technology Officer for Information Technology.  Kemp was the champion of NASA’s Nebula program, the agency’s private cloud effort , and helped with the General Services Administration’s launch of the cloud service program. But in the face of budget cuts and continued institutional resistance to his agenda for changing government IT, Kemp submitted his resignation in March.

“Whereas I thought I had the best of both worlds being a Headquarters employee stationed in Silicon Valley,” Kemp said in a blog post announcing his move, “I actually had the worst of both worlds… no influence when I can’t be in all of those meetings at NASA HQ, with no mandate to manage projects at Ames. As budgets kept getting cut and continuing resolutions from Congress continued to make funding unavailable, I saw my vision for the future slowly slip further from my grasp.”

Kemp’s dillema, while certainly higher profile than that of many state and local CIOs and CTOs, is hardly unique.  With revenues at historic lows, and budgets tight, it’s perhaps harder than ever to try to achieve meaningful change in the way agencies run their information technology, even at tech-focused agencies like NASA.  At the federal level, the budget standoff threatens to put major initiatives that could actually save the government more money on hold.

But perhaps more dangerous, the uncertainties around IT budgets and programs at all levels of government can be demoralizing, particularly to the most talented and valuable members of IT organizations who have options elsewhere.  As other employment opportunities emerge, government IT organizations could see an exodus of talent, making it even more difficult to do more with less.


cloud computing, NASA, sticky, tech, virtualization

NASA’s Chris Kemp calls OpenStack the “Linux of Cloud”, and predicts a public cloud future.

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).”