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Nimbula Rains On Narrow, Proprietary Cloud Formats

In addition to Mark Shuttlesworth, CEO of Cannonical; Simon Crosby, CTO of the cloud division at Citrix Systems; and Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware, lets add another distinguished South African to the annals of virtualization and cloud computing: Chris Pinkham, founder and CEO of Nimbula.

In addition to Mark Shuttlesworth, CEO of Cannonical; Simon Crosby, CTO of the cloud division at Citrix Systems; and Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware, lets add another distinguished South African to the annals of virtualization and cloud computing: Chris Pinkham, founder and CEO of Nimbula.These are some of the people who came out of the University of Cape Town to enter the modern day competitive lists of computing. Their energy, concentration and fervor has pushed forward the boundaries of x86 virtualization and the new layer of functionality on top of it that we call the cloud. Who is Chris Pinkham? He was the designer of Amazon's EC2 cloud as an outgrowth of its retailing Web services. He designed and managed the software systems behind the Amazon online store as VP of engineering for infrastructure.

He is now CEO of a start up called Nimbula, which is developing a cloud operating system.

I sat down with Pinkham recently to learn where that effort is leading. He and Willem van Biljon, VP of products, teamed up to found Nimbula in early 2009. He and Willem are on the board of directors along with Roelof Botha, venture capitalist at Sequoia Capital and another graduate of the University of Cape Town. Former VMware founder and president, Diane Greene, is also a board member.

Pinkham is not trying to create a duplicate of the EC2 infrastructure, which is a distinct and proprietary cloud with its own virtual machine file format. Nor is he trying to create a Savvis or AT&T or Verizon Business compatible cloud, all of which are VMware-oriented with APIs architected to know what to do with VMware file formats.

Pinkham is trying to move the internal enterprise cloud to a more fundamental layer where the software can provide essential cloud services to any standard virtual machine file formats. "What the hypervisor is shouldn't matter," he said.

The same goes for the language-specific clouds, such as Ruby-specific Heroku, he added.

Nimbula is conducting a closed beta test of its cloud operating system at six companies in financial services and several more in health care, including the Metropolitan Health Group. "The software is pretty functional. We're in a quality improvement phase," said Pinkham. A product launch is slated for this fall.

Basically, the software is designed to provide the basic cloud functions of scalability of workloads on an x86 server cluster, ease-of use, flexible assignment of resources, reliability of operation through the ability to route around hardware failures, and security. In its initial phase, Nimbula will work with the open source Xen and KVM hypervisors. Next up is VMware's ESX Server. Ultimately, it will treat the hypervisor as a common commodity, regardless of where it comes from, Pinkham said.

This suggests that Nimbula has drawn its lessons, not from the proprietary format of EC2 but from the neutral migration format, OVF, from the DMTF standards group. Pinkham declined to invoke OVF as a component of his approach but he agreed that OVF set a model for how cloud workloads can be moved around and then constructed in the format suitable for the target hypervisor.

By building an infrastructure that starts with a neutral workload approach as opposed to building around a specific existing one, Nimbula has started down a path to produce a general purpose private cloud, usable in many existing settings and perhaps one day linked to a public cloud, such as EC2. Nimbula is a company with 19 employees. Its headquarters are still in venture capital quarters in Menlo Park; a development group is in South Africa.

"We are competing with the do-it-yourself approach," said Pinkham. That approach inevitably selects one virtual machine hypervisor and proceeds from that point. "We have to persuade (enterprise cloud designers) to let us do the integration features" around a more neutral approach, he said.

As virtual servers, storage, and applications become the norm in the data center, vendors are offering products to consolidate host communications into a single channel and manage that channel with a central appliance. Get the lowdown on the various options before diving in. Download our report here (registration required).

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