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7/27/2011
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NASA's Former CTO Brings Cloud Appliance To Enterprise

Early Google investors back Chris Kemp's 'garage' startup, Nebula, to build OpenStack appliance to compete with Microsoft, Cisco.

Chris Kemp, the man behind NASA's Nebula cloud computing center, has launched a startup, also called Nebula, that will offer an appliance for enterprise cloud computing.

The appliance will be based on OpenStack, an open source code project attempting to establish a widely used, non-proprietary cloud infrastructure. NASA and Rackspace jointly founded the OpenStack project over a year ago.

"Until today, this computing power has only been accessible to organizations like NASA and a small number of elite Silicon Valley companies," said Kemp, CEO of Nebula, in the announcement. "We intend to bring it to the rest of the world."

Kemp got Nebula's seed money from the early investors in Google. The company's first goal will be to quickly bring a commodity appliance to market packed with memory, x86-based CPUs, and a switching fabric as a building block of private cloud infrastructure. The OpenStack software will give the appliance the ability to provision and manage virtual machines for end users and charge them for their use.

There's already competition. Microsoft has announced a similar appliance, except it will be governed by software that reflects its Windows Azure cloud architecture. EMC and Cisco, with investments from Intel and VMware, have founded VCE to build Vblock hardware as virtualized cloud appliances.

"Nebula embracing OpenStack today is similar to Sun embracing Berkeley UNIX in the 1980s. Proprietary systems did not have a chance against open platforms," said Andy Bechtolsheim in the announcement Wednesday. He is one of the founders of Sun Microsystems who wrote out the first $100,000 check to finance Google. "I see Nebula as the company that will bring OpenStack to the private enterprise cloud," he said.

Bechtolsheim is an investor in Nebula, along with David Cheriton and Ram Shriram, also early Google investors. Venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Highland Capital are also investors.

Chris Kemp was not immediately available for comment. He resigned as NASA CTO on March 14, saying he was bent on launching a startup "in a garage in Palo Alto." The comment was taken as a figure of speech at the time. His firm will be located in Palo Alto, the announcement said. Co-founders are VP of engineering Devin Carlen, formerly CTO of Anso Labs, a private firm that created the server provisioning code for NASA Nebula, and Steve O'Hara, VP of business development. O'Hara is the former founder of Prime Networks, OnFiber, and CoreLogic.

Nebula was announced during OSCON, the annual open source code conference in Portland, Ore., this week. At the same conference, HP announced that it will support and contribute to the OpenStack project, a boost for the prospects of the code's wider acceptance.

Nebula appliances will support Facebook's OpenCompute platform, which specified an energy-efficient way to build cloud infrastructure. They will be turnkey appliances for customers, spokesmen said, ready to plug in and turn on.

The original Nebula cloud was built with rack-mount servers packed into shipping containers that were delivered to the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

Another startup has also emerged from the effort, Piston, lead by former Nebula architect Joshua McKenty.

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