In the early days of cloud computing, NASA CTO Chris Kemp took several leading concepts of how to assemble a low cost, horizontally scalable data center and put them to work at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.
One concept was placing banks of standard x86 server racks in a shipping container with one power supply and network hookup. The container was dropped off by supplier Verari, and hooked up and ready to start accepting workloads in a few days, compared to the long time it takes to construct a new, permanent data center. He also ensured a close tie-in to MAE-West, a major Internet access point, which NASA already had at Ames.
Kemp initially created the Nebula cloud project to collect big data from NASA research projects, such as the Mars mapping project. But Kemp also conceived of a mobile cloud data center that could be transported to different locations to provide onsite compute power, no matter where a spacecraft was launched or an interplanetary mission was managed.
Kemp also advocated sharing NASA data, and both Google and Microsoft have used telescopic images and mapping from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to create public image libraries online. He also initiated the OpenStack open source code project when NASA sought to team up with Rackspace to combine cloud computing software assets.
In March 2011, Chris Kemp resigned his post with NASA, an agency with which he had dreamed of working since he was a child, to become founder and CEO of Nebula. He was leaving, he said, "to find a garage in Palo Alto to do the work I love," a turn of phrase that showed he would be equally at home walking the halls of Congress or working the venture capital hallways of Menlo Park, Calif.
Not an imposing figure in stature, he is nevertheless an indomitable one. In a debate among Eucalyptus Systems, Citrix CloudStack and OpenStack at GigaOm's Structure 2012, Kemp, speaking for OpenStack, was hemmed in by CloudStack's Sameer Dholakia and Eucalyptus' Marten Mickos, who seemed to have jointly aimed their sharpest comments at OpenStack. In answer, Kemp declared that he would be on the stage the following year without either of them as OpenStack grew larger. It was a brash, if not rash, comment, but one that nevertheless brought a moment of breathing room in which to talk about OpenStack capabilities and momentum.