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Image Gallery: Inside NASA's Nebula Compute Cloud

NASA engineers have developed a cloud computing environment in a portable container that's about to go into broader testing.

NASA's Nebula Cloud Container
(click image to view gallery)
NASA's Nebula Cloud Container
NASA's prototype cloud computing environment, Nebula, is about to be extended from a few experimental testers to a broader, more geographically distributed beta test. And, in one of the first examples of its applicability for real world computing, Nebula will also be used to host a newly site.

Since its launch in 2007, Nebula has been tested by groups within NASA Ames under the close watch of the Nebula infrastructure team. The next step in Nebula's development is to make it more broadly available, both to more users and in other locations.

One of the first big tests of Nebula's ability to scale will come during the next few weeks when the White House launches the next version of the government's spending transparency Web site. version 2.0 will be hosted on Nebula.

Beyond that, Nebula will move into beta phase within a "couple of months," during which NASA will test an automated support service for Nebula users and gauge how well Nebula works over a more geographically distributed area, according to a NASA spokeswoman. As a step in that direction, NASA Ames is holding workshops to teach its teams about the platform.

NASA considers Nebula to be primarily a computing environment for research and development. It initially planned Nebula to be a platform as a service for scientific computing needs, and has since moved in the direction of infrastructure as a service, as well.

Nebula consists of hardware and software housed in a shipping container at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., in addition to clusters of servers in other NASA data centers. The software is largely open source.

Nebula can already meet the computing requirements of scientific researchers that may be beyond the offerings of public cloud service providers. According to NASA, Nebula supports up to 100 times the file size and 10 times the networking speed of Amazon's EC2 cloud service.

Nebula will eventually move beyond beta testing into operational mode. The space agency plans to release the Nebula software stack as open source, so that other government agencies and private sector companies can build their own Nebula clouds.

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