Nimbula Readies Cloud OS Launch

Director operating system will enable providers to build out a cloud infrastructure like Amazon's EC2, then extend it with their own brand of added services, the firm announced at Cloud Connect.
Top 10 Cloud Stories Of 2010
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Top 10 Cloud Stories Of 2010

Nimbula Director, the first product to come out in the new category of "cloud operating system," will become generally available in 30 days, said Chris Pinkham, CEO of Nimbula and former VP of engineering at at Cloud Connect 2011, UBM TechWeb event.

Director has been available in unsupported, public beta since early December. A cloud operating system treats a broad set of virtualized resources -- servers, storage, and networking -- as a single computer system and marshals those resources as efficiently as it can to serve users and workloads.

Pinkham, his co-founder and fellow veteran, Willem van Biljon, and Martin Buhr, VP of sales at Nimbula and former business director for Europe of Amazon Web Services, were all roaming the Santa Clara, Calif., Convention Center this week, appearing in various conference sessions and on panels.

Nimbula is one several young, ambitious brain trusts bidding to become the supplier of the core software superstructure for future cloud services. Another is Eucalyptus Systems, with more of a private cloud orientation. And another is, based on the open source project started by Rackspace, OpenStack.

Nimbula Director may be adopted in some enterprises to build a private cloud, said Pinkham, who took time out of a busy schedule to sit down for an interview with InformationWeek at the show. But it's more likely to be adopted by future cloud service providers that plan to build out a cloud infrastructure like Amazon's EC2, then extend it with their own brand of added services.

Amazon's EC2 is the clear market leader for providing plain vanilla, on-demand compute cycles, also known as infrastructure as a service (IaaS). "We believe there is an enormous amount of room for the invention of new clouds and a new range of services," that go beyond the Amazon example, he said.

Nimbula's first goal is to enable a cloud supplier, whether public or private, to match Amazon's infrastructure and track its development with user self-provisioning, policy-governed authentication, load balancing, and user chargeback. But unlike EC2, Nimbula is striving to create a hypervisor-neutral cloud that could be used by a wide variety of virtual machine users. Many clouds today are hypervisor specific. Nimbula regards virtualization as something that remains in the background, not the foreground.

It's not there yet. The initial offering of Director will support only Red Hat's KVM hypervisor and open source Xen. Next on the list will be VMware's ESX Server, no delivery date yet in sight. Pinkham acknowledged that Nimbula as a startup was partial to open source code, and indeed EC2 was built on the back of many open source projects. "Hyper-V (Microsoft's hypervisor) isn't really in the picture at this stage," said Pinkham, saying he didn't see demand yet for its inclusion in a cloud operating system.

Nimbula seeks to manage key aspects of cloud operation in a highly automated fashion. If traffic to a service provider is building, Nimbula can bring dozens or hundreds of new servers online. It has a decentralized architecture that doesn't allow the management of additional servers to degrade the operating system's performance. New racks can be added with a minimum required in human configuration, and they will be brought online in 15 minutes, Pinkham said.

Slideshow: Cloud Security Pros And Cons
Slideshow: Cloud Security Pros And Cons
(click image for larger view and for full slideshow)

Multiple users or groups of users will be assigned fine-grained permissions on what types of servers and applications they may access, based on management policies that assign the permissions automatically.

User interactions can be governed by a strictly limited menu of options, or by offering the end user full, programmatic control over a server cluster, depending on how the service provider wishes to operate, said Pinkham. Amazon Web Services sticks to the menu of options approach as the best way to offer compute cycles cheaply. A scientific researcher or technology inventor might want programmatic control where he's submitting programming of his own choosing, assessing runs of the program and then submitting changes -- in a way that couldn't be governed by a fixed menu of options.

Feedback from early implementers will be one measure of how well Director works with a variety of storage management systems. Pinkham said Director has been engineered to work with some of the most widely installed ones.

A cloud is not just a set of virtualized servers or a typical data center set up to be publicly accessible over the Internet, said Nimbula's VP of sales Martin Buhr during a panel on open source code in private cloud computing. "It changes in some major ways the way you write applications. The best practices on Amazon should become best practices in general," he said.

One of the main practices pioneered by, Google, and others is the movement of fault tolerance from a hardware solution, once represented by the paired servers of a Tandem Computers system, into a software solution, where the cloud software knows how to compensate when a server fails. Most NoSQL data management systems, such as CouchDB or Cassandra, have adopted the practice.

Willem van Biljon, Nimbula's VP of products, generalized that conclusion further as a speaker at the event's general session Wednesday. "The lessons from large scale computing (such as Amazon's EC2) matter at all scales," he said. There is no one size of enterprise or data center that should adopt the tenets of cloud computing; they all should, he suggested in his compact presentation.

Problems still be solved before cloud computing can be adopted at many levels include automating the provisioning of network security when commissioning virtual machines and assigning them addresses on the network. In addition, "identity is a problem" as users try to make use of both the on-premises data center and enterprise workloads in the public cloud. "If we can figure out how to federate identity -- that's one of the keys to the problem. If we can solve that, we can get the rest right," he predicted.

In listening to these three representatives of Nimbula across three days, one comes away with the impression that it is a company working on solving those problems and intent on applying the experience gained in building EC2.

Director is due to become available in early April and will be free for use in implementations up to 40 cores (which in some cases, would be a cluster of five, 8-core Intel Nehalem servers). Nimbula will charge for Director above 40-core implementations, along with furnishing technical support contracts.

Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
Shane Snider, Senior Writer, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author