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Ex-Amazon über admin betas 'cloud operating system'

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Nimbula — the build-your-own-cloud startup founded by Amazon's former vice president of engineering — has released a public beta of its so-called cloud operating system, Nimbula Director.

Available as a free download, the beta is designed to mimic Amazon's EC2 "public infrastructure cloud" inside your own data center, providing on-demand access to scalable computing resources including processing power, storage, and networking. The idea is similar to the one floated by Eucalyptus, the (semi–)open source outfit fronted by former MySQL boss Marten Mickos — though Nimbula says that, unlike Eucalyptus, its primary aim is to completely automate the creation of your "private cloud."

"We want everything to be automated from the first time the infrastructure is turned on," Nimbula boss Chris Pinkham, who once ran Amazon's entire infrastructure and helped build EC2, told us during an interview earlier this year. "We hope that this will be a significant contribution, change the way that traditional infrastructure is managed and thought of. We think of it as infrastructure-as-a-service out of the box."

Nimbula Director installs on bare-metal servers, and it works in tandem with both Xen and KVM hypervisors. It exposes a REST (representational state transfer) API, and this can be accessed from either a web console or the command line.

Whereas Eucalyptus chose to mirror the Amazon Web Services API, Nimbula built its own. The API, Pinkam says, isn't the important bit. "Our goal is: you just assemble the physical infrastructure and our software basically takes of everything else to the point of having these APIs exposed," he told us. "You don't have to take a module from one company and then add database support and build a whole much of other services and turn this into a big R&D exercise."

Pinkham says the company's kit is more like VMware's vCloud Director, which underpins Amazon EC2–like public clouds from the likes of Verizon, but is also used to build private clouds. VMware is a Nimbula investor. And none too surprisingly, Pinkham says that Nimbula's biggest competition comes from do-it-yourself setups. "By far, the most scalable infrastructures we've seen in enterprises have all been home-built," he says.

This is partly a knock against Eucalyptus, which has long been dogged by claims that it just doesn't scale. And indeed, its founders have always said that it's not designed to expand to Amazon EC2–like sizes.

Nimbula aims to provide VMware-like scale, but at the same time reinvent infrastructure design in a way VMware hasn't. "In common with many existing players, like IBM and others, their approach is to incrementally improve existing architectures and concepts," Pinkham says. "It will take them a while to get to the point where you get this totally agile, large-scale single pool of infrastructure...Our goal is to go a couple of years ahead."

Like VMware, Nimbula also trumpets the notion of a corporate infrastructure that spans both public and private clouds. Today, the software lets you move applications between your internal setup and Amazon EC2, and in the future the company plans to offer similar integration with other public clouds.

Under the covers, Nimbula maps its own APIs and service requests onto Amazon's APIs, and it converts Nimbula's standard ISO (International Organization for Standardization) images to Amazon Machine Images (AMI). The company has not yet decided which additional public clouds it will embrace, but Pinkham mentioned Rackspace as a possibility. "We focus on our own services, but then we'll expose modules that let customers map to the API they want to consume. Those may be standards-based, they may be VMware-based."

Pinkham doesn't buy the idea of settling on a industry-standard API — at least not yet. "We let our services define the API requirements. Our approach — rightly or wrongly — is to decide what the machinery is first and then decide what levers you need to operate it. We think it's too early to bake-in standard APIs." And, he adds, with management frameworks such as RightScale, it isn't difficult to move from one API to another. "The hardest part is not [moving between APIs]. The hardest part is the automated build-out of the infrastructure...as well as figuring out how to load-balance and distribute large numbers of applications across a large infrastructure, and figuring out how to make the data available reliably in lots of different locations."

Similarly, Pinkham is unsure how the company will treat OpenStack, the (truly) open source cloud platform fashioned by Rackspace and NASA. "We're still evaluating [OpenStack]," he said, though he acknowledged that the project is intriguing given the sort of scale NASA is aiming for. NASA originally built its Nebula cloud — not be be confused with Nimbula — using Eucalyptus, but after realizing Eucalyptus wouldn't, well, scale as well it would like, it built its own compute engine and fabric controller. Known as a Nova, this platform is the processing-power pillar of Open Stack.

Nimbula says that the company may make open source contributions, but this is still very much undecided. "We use open source software and we improve some and we try to figure out how we can contribute back to the project we use." Pinkham said. "The time will come."

Pinkham cofounded Nimbula in 2008. The company was originally started to build some sort of virtual desktop system, but about a year into the project, Pinkham and his colleagues realized that VDI wasn't "gaining the traction" in the market as they had expected. So they switched to the idea of an instamatic cloud kit. "We ending up realizing that a lot of the services we built around things like identity, permissions, role-based policy, licensing of applications, distribution of machine images, and so on — all of that could be brought to bear to enable EC2-like agility and scale inside privately-owned infrastructure."

Nimbula Director was previously available as a private beta. You can download the public beta from the company's website. ®

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