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NASA's Nebula cloud descends on Washington

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NASA's Nebula infrastructure cloud - which will likely host websites across the federal government - is expanding from the agency's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley to a data center at the Goddard Space Flight Center in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

"We are in the process of implementing the second Nebula site within NASA," newly-appointed NASA CTO Chris Kemp tells The Reg. "We have now expanded the pilot project to a NASA agency project which will be implemented both at Ames and Goddard." The idea is to share the Nebula load between the east and west coasts of the United States.

Kemp was elevated to the brand new NASA CTO post after serving as Chief Information Officer at Ames, where he led the Nebula pilot project. Kemp will stay in Silicon Valley - "I made a good solid case that if we tried to build an organization based on innovation in Washington, D.C., it wouldn't last long, or it would last forever and not fulfill its purpose," he says - and yes, Nebula has been elevated with him.

In his new position, Kemp will develop Nebula and "a small portfolio of what we'll call disruptive innovation projects." NASA retains its agency-wide CIO, who will work to actually implement these projects once they're fully developed. "The CTO is focused on enterprise architecture and future roadmaps - designing the future," Kemp says. "The CTO will design, and the CIO will build and operate."

In January, Kemp told us that engineers building the open source Nebula cloud have been working with a team that's fashioning a new breed of federal websites for federal CIO Vivek Kundra. In the "near future," he added, Kundra and crew will unveil a federal portal that runs atop Nebula. "We have been working with those guys to power other federal websites outside of NASA," Kemp told us. "There is a particular site we've been working with Vivek on, and it will be released in the near future...

"Rather than worry about their own infrastructure, they were able to focus just on the website they were building and use Nebula's infrastructure-as-a-service instead. It's one of several pilot projects [involving Nebula]."

Other sources have indicated to The Reg that Nebula is slated to run sites across the federal government.

You can think of Nebula as a version of Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Simple Storage Service (S3) that's used only within the federal government, a service that provides on-demand access to scalable processing and storage resources. It's based on Eucalyptus, the open source cloud platform that's bundled with the latest version of Ubuntu. Eucalyptus. Karmic Koala. You get the picture.

Nebula runs Eucalyptus using Linux and the XEN and KVM open source hypervisors. It also makes use of MySQL and the open source RabbitMQ messaging system, used to communicate between virtual machines and to push information down to end user browsers, according to Rabbit Technologies CEO Alexis Richardson. Richardson's outfit was recently purchased by VMware's SpringSource division.

The Ames pilot project uses modular data center containers built with help from Cisco. And in the past, Kemp has told us that these container designs would make it easier to reproduce the Nebula infrastructure in other parts of the country, but he says NASA has not yet committed to using the modular design at Goddard. "That's our goal, but we're not sure we'll have the funding to put containers out at Goddard. But we want to have an equal amount of infrastructure between the east and west coast." ®

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