Nebula Wants To Be iPhone Of Data Center

Former NASA CTO Chris Kemp explains his startup's appliance that manages commodity servers as a cloud resource. His plan: Out-innovate the competition.
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InformationWeek: What will be inside the Nebula cloud appliance?

Kemp: The appliance will be a cloud controller, an aggregation place for server images, Web interfaces, a command center. It will have all the APIs for the features of the cloud, the storage service, the security service, and the OpenStack software. It's a box at the top of the cabinet. In it, you'll have all the management and orchestration through an enhanced version of OpenStack. There's also a switching fabric so each low-cost server in the cabinet is connected to the appliance by two 10-Gbps Ethernet switching cards. The appliance provides connectivity to everything in the cabinet.

InformationWeek: So underneath the appliance, there's a stack of servers? The appliance is not a cloud compute server itself?

Kemp: One of our appliances can power up to 24 Dell or HP commodity servers. The customer can decide which low-cost servers he puts in the cabinet. The moment you connect the appliance's Ethernet port to a server, the server will power on and become a compute node in a massively scaleable, elastic compute cloud. It will be provided with a lot of links. It will be compatible with standard APIs, from Amazon or Rackspace [public clouds].

InformationWeek: Customers can make a lot of different decisions. How does the appliance know what servers it's dealing with?

Kemp: It will hook into the existing configuration management database, if there is one. It's a lot less disruptive to IT, if it does. [CMDBs perform periodic discovery of devices on the network, capturing their configurations.] By having it talk to the existing tools, it can find out the existing configurations that may have been set to meet compliance requirements and other criteria. Our focus will be on the enterprise integration points, the really popular tools. The appliance will also log the events in every server and aggregate all that data.

InformationWeek: What tools will it first integrate with?

Kemp: It will integrate with Zenoss [network monitoring], Splunk [system analytics], BMC Atrium [configuration management database], HP's OpenView and ArcSite.

InformationWeek: What about CA Unicenter or IBM Tivoli?

Kemp: Unicenter is on the list. Tivoli is on the list. I don't know why I spaced on them. They're at the top of the list.

InformationWeek: You're combining cloud servers with storage?

Kemp: We're unifying compute cycles and storage. There'll be no expensive, Fibre Channel products in there [a jibe at Cisco's Unified Computing System]. Customers may put a storage server in the cabinet. The appliance will very dynamically look at the entire rack. It will have storage spread throughout. We will provide high availability, Internet-scale storage, lot's of storage.

InformationWeek: Is the enterprise ready to build out private clouds?

Kemp:Enterprises have three options. They can use the public cloud. They can hire a team of rock star integrators and build a custom cloud with open source and cloud software. Or they can hire a number of companies who have been doing business for 20 years and are willing to integrate outdated technology at your expense. The end result will not be as innovative as what you see in the public cloud.

That's why we started Nebula. What we have to do is build a great customer experience. We won't be able to deliver that experience in software alone--you need the hardware. By taking the [appliance] hardware and locking it down, we can deliver a lot of innovation. Apple has proven that. We want to be the iPhone of the data center.

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