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Nimbula Tackles Cloud's Identity Problem

Cloud OS Nimbula Director 1.5 lets IT share user identities and privilege levels across multiple data centers.

The 1.5 release of Nimbula Director will be able to provision end users with compute cycles and storage in geographically separated data centers. That means a user's identity and authentication established in one Director location can now be used in another, federated location.

Director, termed a cloud operating system, was first released five months ago as youngster Nimbula strode onto the cloud computing stage under the direction of CEO Chris Pinkham, former VP of engineering at Amazon Web Services, and VP of products Willem van Biljon, who helped develop the business plan for Amazon's EC2. Director manages user identities and privileges and generates virtual machines, governing their use in a cloud environment.

Pinkham, Biljon, and their startup staff in Mountain View, Calif., have venture backing to produce a system that can be used by either enterprises with multiple data centers or cloud service providers who have more than one center or wish to federate with other cloud providers. The 1.5 release, when it becomes available in September, will go further to enable that federation.

"You can install Director in multiple data centers. We do that on a regular basis. You manage the federation in much the same way as in single data center or compute cluster," said Pinkham in an interview.

Under the Director approach, two or more data centers can run their own copies of Director, but user identities and privilege levels would be shared across them. A data center staff would retain authority over its own operations and might exclude users from resources in its center that they have access to at home. Director incorporates automated procedures in generating virtual machines and policies in governing them. Under a federation scheme, for example, different copies of Director might provision the same end user with storage in the cloud on a larger scale than he could muster in just one data center. That storage could be used and managed from a single view in the user's home data center.

At the center of the federation, Director acts as a neutral third party willing to deal with different operating systems and hypervisors, although it is currently limited to Red Hat's KVM and open source Xen. Use of Director is free for up to 40 cores on a server cluster, such as five Intel Nehalem servers, each with eight cores. Nimbula charges for Director for use above 40 cores and offers technical support.

Performance management of a federated cloud is still beyond Director's capabilities. Each member of the federation may be using the same cloud operating system, but in all likelihood, its monitoring systems, such as CA Unicenter, IBM Tivoli, or BMC Software's ProactiveNet Performance Management (Patrol), will vary and the amount of information they are able to extract from Director will vary, Pinkham noted. "That will be an area with lots of work, lots of activity in the future," he said.

Director 1.5 combines self-service storage provisioning with management features associated with enterprise storage systems, such as determining availability level and speed or retrieval of the storage. That's the case in part because Director will work with a variety of third-party vendors' storage management systems.

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