NASA Drops OpenStack For Amazon Cloud

Space agency touts Amazon cost savings to explain why it's no longer using the OpenStack open source cloud project it co-founded.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

June 18, 2012

3 Min Read

NASA's Blue Marble: 50 Years Of Earth Imagery

NASA's Blue Marble: 50 Years Of Earth Imagery

NASA's Blue Marble: 50 Years Of Earth Imagery (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

NASA's prestige and participation has been a selling point for advocates of the OpenStack open source cloud project, which NASA co-founded with San Antonio infrastructure-as-a-service provider RackSpace. Unfortunately, they'll have to get along without NASA from here on.

NASA has withdrawn as an active contributor to OpenStack, saying it doesn't want to be in the business of producing cloud software anymore.

Ray O'Brien, acting CIO at NASA Ames, when asked May 30 by InformationWeek about NASA's participation, used diplomatic language to say that NASA still endorsed the project, was proud of its founding role, and might be a user of OpenStack components in the future. "It is very possible that NASA could leverage OpenStack as a customer in the future," he wrote in his email response.

Then, in a June 8 blog, NASA CIO Linda Cureton dispensed with the diplomacy: "NASA [has] shifted to a new Web services model that uses Amazon Web Services for cloud-based enterprise infrastructure," she wrote.

"This cloud-based model supports a wide variety of Web applications and sites using an interoperable, standards-based, and secure environment, while providing almost a million dollars in cost savings each year," she continued.

Talk about rubbing salt in an open wound. Cureton's reference to "an interoperable, standards-based environment" could have been taken from the OpenStack playbook. Amazon Web Services, to which Cureton was actually referring, uses proprietary Amazon Machine Images as the basis for workloads that run in its Elastic Compute Cloud.

OpenStack advocates, such as Chris Kemp, former CIO at NASA Ames and now CEO of Nebula, says OpenStack is one of the few freely available, standards-based ways of building a public or private cloud. Cureton apparently didn't attend April's OpenStack Summit in San Francisco where Kemp gave an address. Cureton's comments praised Amazon enough that AWS evangelist Jeff Barr picked them up and repeated them.

[ Want to learn how Nebula wants to be like the Apple iPhone? See Nebula Wants To Be iPhone Of Data Center. ]

Cureton's blog makes clear that the initiative behind the move is a push by the federal government to achieve more efficient operations and lower costs, as quickly as possible. Moving more work to Amazon's EC2 is part of a yearlong effort to reduce costs and change the way that NASA IT does business, Cureton said in her blog.

Twenty federal data centers have been closed in the process, she noted, although the federal government as a whole operated over 1,200 in 2009. Her conclusion: "Only by working together, collaboratively and in an open environment, can we continue to achieve long-lasting federal IT reform," she wrote in her blog. But nowhere in her references to an open environment was there any mention of OpenStack.

At the same time, OpenStack has gained the backing of 175 other companies--including IBM, HP, Red Hat, Del,l and Intel--as the primary open source cloud offering.

In a move toward standards, Amazon recently agreed to partner with Eucalyptus Systems, which had already duplicated the functionality of its cloud APIs in open source code. The partnership gave Eucalyptus assurance that Amazon wouldn't dispute its open source code offerings. At the same time, it gave Amazon a way to point out that private clouds could be built using Eucalyptus code that was compatible with its own.

Private clouds are more than a trendy buzzword--they represent Virtualization 2.0. For IT organizations willing to dispense with traditional application hosting models, a plethora of pure cloud software options beckons. Our Understanding Private Cloud Stacks report explains what's available. (Free registration required.)

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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