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10/20/2010
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NASA Readies Nebula Cloud Computing Platform For Release

Infrastructure-as-a-service, offered through NASA Cloud Services, should be available for agency-wide production within weeks, according to the space agency.

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The beta this summer led to the development of several new features, including: user interface improvements; per-project firewalls that enable users to logically isolate their respective projects from one another; the ability for users to select whether they want to run their app from physical servers located on the West Coast, East Coast, or both; and resource tracking.

NASA is still working out how it will charge users for their use of Nebula, and how much. One thought is to allow users access to between one and five instances free. The new resource tracking capability gets rid of the technical hurdles, but not the cultural hurdles to typical variable, pay-for-use cloud computing charging methods. "Variable metered pricing is tricky in government because of the budgeting process," Kemp said. "This is a business challenge more than a technological challenge."

According to NASA, the beta enabled the agency to improve reliability and documentation for its cloud services, and led to the development of a number of new features, including a control panel for security features, resource quota tracking by project, resource availability zones, user-determined instance and image names, and overall user interface improvements.

With production release nearing, Kemp said that he's increasingly hearing discussion of the possible use of Nebula to solve critical mission challenges. "The huge, data-producing missions like the data telescope projects are saying, we should look at Nebula now," Kemp said. "Before, they didn't even know what the cloud was, but now they're paying attention."

Kemp said he also sees the potential for NASA Cloud Services to serve as a beachhead for NASA's CIO shop into the agency's research community, which has traditionally made many of its own IT decisions.

Moving forward, NASA will continue to work on improving performance and security, add additional platform services, and work to blend Nebula into the agency's evolving cloud and data center strategies, according to Kemp.

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