OpenStack creators launch cloud appliance start-up

Nebula led by former NASA CTO, focusing on turnkey hardware appliance

With backing from Sand Hill Road heavyweights and early Google investors, former NASA CTO Chris Kemp on Wednesday unveiled his new company, Nebula, a hardware appliance based on the OpenStack open source cloud computing project launched last year by NASA and Rackspace Cloud.

Kemp announced the company at OSCon, the open source convention in Portland, Ore., saying Nebula's goal is to "democratize" cloud computing by offering customers hardware appliances that are cloud-ready.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company has received an undisclosed amount of funding from venture firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Highland Capital Partners, as well as seed funding from Andy Bechtolsheim, David Cheriton and Ram Shriram, who were the first three investors in Google.

In framing its market opportunity, Nebula said in a statement:

Companies today choose between accepting the high costs and risks associated with public cloud computing services, buying yesterday’s most expensive technology and integrating it at their own expense, or attempting to hire an elite team of technologists to cobble together dozens of open source technologies and commodity hardware into a proprietary solution. Nebula levels the playing field by delivering a fully supported large-scale computing platform with a turnkey device that automatically configures a private cloud in minutes.

Kemp will serve as chief executive of Nebula, with co-founder Steve O'Hara serving as vice president of business development and the third co-founder, Devin Carlen, in the role of VP of engineering.

Forrester's Stefan Ried on Wednesday called the Nebula appliance "a quantum leap in cloud-computing industrialization."

"If Nebula delivers a compelling price point, it has an appealing approach that could gain significant share in the growing cloud hardware market," Ried wrote.

However, he added, if Nebula "aims to spur a revolution similar to that of the PC, its founders need to tweak their strategy soon." Among other things, Ried recommended that Nebula partner with large enterprise apps vendors and to focus on Europe, where private clouds are proliferating.

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