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NASA Evaluates Nebula Cloud Platform

Data center outsourcing services RFPs totaling $1.5 billion have been placed on hold while the agency assesses the Nebula cloud computing platform for providing compute power to several large-scale applications.

NASA's Nebula cloud-computing platform may soon take on a more prominent position at the agency to replace on-premises technology as a cost saving and efficiency measure.

NASA recently said it was re-evaluating its data-center strategy and put a hold on $1.5 billion worth of request for proposals for outsourcing data-center services.

White House CIO Vivek Kundra revealed in a blog post how several of NASA's organizations may use Nebula in lieu of data-center resources to provide the compute power for several large-scale applications.

The agency's Flight Vehicle Research & Technology Division at the Ames Research Center is evaluating the use of Nebula for its Message Passing Interface (MPI), which aids in the computation of flight-vehicle air flow.

MPI allows different compute nodes that record measurements from various pieces of an aircraft's surface to communicate with each other to compute air-flow data.

Currently, the team uses NASA's 60000-core Pleiades super computer to power the MPI. While Nebula doesn't have the performance scale of Pleiades, NASA is considering its use to save money, according to Kundra.

Another NASA organization Kundra didn't name also is eyeing to help manage memory and storage requirements, of which they have many, he said. The organization is interested in the platform because it will allow them to specify the amount of memory and storage needed for virtual machines.

Yet another sector, also unnamed in the post, is evaluating Nebula to create virtual workstations software developers can use to write and test-compile code. Using cloud infrastructure would facilitate collaboration among developers because it would allow them to share modules and libraries currently running on their local desktops, according to Kundra. It also would give them more control over the development environment in general, he said.

A fourth organization is evaluating Nebula to allow for "anonymous but controlled" FTP transfers of large files between NASA and non-NASA partners, according to Kundra. The organization also may use the platform to run an in-house, Web-based Java application that analyzes and visualizes data from NASA's Airspace Concept Evaluation System, he said.

Using Nebula more within NASA could be a sign of even greater use of the open-source platform across the entire federal government. In fact, one published report suggests that plans are in the works already.

According to a published interview with Chris Kemp, CIO of the Ames center that developed Nebula, NASA is working with Kundra to use the platform to power federal websites even outside of the agency.

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