Ex-NASA OpenStackers launch Nebula cloud control freak appliance

Forget OpenStack software disties, says OpenStack co-founder Kemp

Speaks OpenStack and Amazon APIs

The other interesting bit about the Nebula controller and its Cosmos cloud operating system is that it supports both the OpenStack API set (Folsom with a sprinkling of Grizzly) as well as the Amazon Web Services API stack. Rackspace and other OpenStackers have been trying to back away from the AWS APIs, and that is one of the reasons why Citrix Systems made a break with OpenStack and put all of its weight behind CloudStack, which also supports the AWS APIs.

Here's what this Amazon API support means practically speaking: if you have a workload running on a Nebula One cloud and you want to move it to AWS, you point a tool like RightScale at it and it can capture that VM and spin it up out on the public cloud. Or, vice versa, you can use RightScale to move a VM from AWS to your private cloud. (There's some rejiggering necessary to convert from the Xen to KVM formats, of course.)

To build a cloud, you buy a Nebula One controller and you put twenty server nodes (again, from a selected hardware compatibility list that Kemp says covers the vast majority of enterprise-server buyers) into a rack. You run two 10GE links to each server node, which are used for cloudy server traffic to link the nodes together into a compute and storage pool. To manage the nodes, you pop in a 24-port Gigabit Ethernet switch (there are a few that are certified) that is used by the Nebula One to reach into the server nodes and boss them around.

When you fire up the Nebula One, it reaches out over its embedded switch and provisions KVM on the bare metal, then makes the raw server and storage capacity available for provisioning of virtual machines from the Resource Manager. By the way, that Resource Manager is not based on the Horizon project that is part of OpenStack, but is rather something created by Nebula for itself – and no, it will not be open sourced.

You can run a cloud with a single Nebula One controller, but the system was designed to have multiple controllers for high availability and resiliency, says Kemp. The Cosmos operating system can currently span as many as five controllers in a single OpenStack controller domain and automatically load-balances work across controllers and the five racks of servers attached to them. With those five racks, you can have on the order of 2,500 cores and 5PB of storage, depending on the servers you pick.

A five rack OpenStack cloud controlled by Nebula One

A five-rack OpenStack cloud controlled by Nebula One

Back when Nebula, the company, launched a year and a half ago, Kemp told El Reg that the Cosmos software (which did not have that name at the time) would allow for up to 1,024 controllers to be daisy-chained together for something on the order of 24,576 server nodes and around 300,000 virtual machines under management.

You have to remember that Kemp originally set a very tall order for OpenStack when it launched, which was for it to be able to control freak over one million host systems and control something on the order of 60 million virtual machines. It is going to take some time to get there, clearly.

The Cosmos software also includes a feature called Cloud Edge, which makes a cluster of Nebula One control freaks look like one wonking Layer 3 device to your IP networks, with a bunch of 10GE pipes connecting your private cloud upstream to the network backbone. If you add up all the upstream pipes, you can get around 128Gb/sec of upstream bandwidth out of five racks, which Kemp says is an order of magnitude better than you can get out of clusters built on AWS.

The other thing that Cosmos knows how to do is something that companies are going to be very thrilled to hear about: one-button rolling upgrades of firmware, hypervisor, and OpenStack. Because Nebula is keeping tight control of which servers can be used with the Nebula One controller, it can automate the way that server firmware gets patched on those machines.

So what would you pay for such a cloud control freak appliance? How does $100,000 grab you?

Specifically, for $100,000 you get a Nebula One controller that is licensed to control-freak five server nodes, and each additional node costs somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 depending on the features you activate in the controller. That $100,000 includes the first year of support, which is 20 per cent per year after that.

"The whole system is less than you will pay an employee to install and manage OpenStack," says Kemp, aware that this is a pretty high sticker price for a 2U appliance server. But then again, NetScaler and other WAN optimizing appliances that do very specific jobs are just as costly.

It is hard to back out what costs what in the Nebula One controller the way Nebula is talking about it, but let's do a little math.

The box includes a 48-port 10GE switch, which is worth somewhere between $12,000 and $20,000, depending on what you want to compare it to. Call it $15,000 plus $3,000 a year for maintenance, just for a guess for the value of the switch inside the controller. That $5,000 to $10,000 per server node under management cost seems high. Even at $5,000 per node, that is worth $25,000 plus another $5,000 for maintenance for the five nodes licensed with the base Nebula One machine.

Back out the network cost, the node license, and their maintenance, and that leaves $52,000 to cover the OpenStack license and its support. (That would be $43,000 for a license and $9,000 for support to make the math work.) Now, build it up to a full rack for 20 nodes, and you are talking about shelling out anywhere from $175,000 to $250,000 to Nebula.

This is still a bit pricey, El Reg reckons, and will rival the cost of very, very fat server configurations in the rack.

But even at that price, with a little discounting and a lot of fast talking about how Nebula One mitigates the risk of using OpenStack and makes it easy to consume, Nebula is going to find some buyers. Quite possibly NASA, for one.

The issue is going to be convincing data centers to let go of their switch preferences, which they are very loath to do. And once it gets some traction, the company is going to have to think about offering lower-priced appliances that can help it go more mainstream before someone else steals the appliance idea.

It is amazing that a switch maker has not embedded OpenStack inside the switch on an x86 coprocessor already, really. ®

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