NASA audit shows natural progression of OpenStack implementation, former CTO says

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A read of the audit NASA released about the organization’s use of cloud computing resources sounds pretty damning – to OpenStack.

After a five month test that compared Nebula – NASA’s internal cloud that partly became the basis for OpenStack – with Amazon and Microsoft, NASA determined that those public cloud services “were more reliable and cost effective and offered much greater computing capacity and better IT support than Nebula,” according to the report. As a result, NASA turned off Nebula.

Source: JD Hancock, via Flickr

Ouch! To me, that sounds like a vote against private implementations of OpenStack, which currently is where the community seems to be focusing.

I asked Chris Kemp what he thinks. Kemp was the CTO for IT at NASA and co-founder of OpenStack. He went on to found Nebula, a company offering an appliance for building private OpenStack clouds. With that background, Kemp has good reason to defend OpenStack, but he made some fair points.

In essence, Nebula (the NASA cloud), was a direct implementation of OpenStack. There are some large companies, like PayPal, doing this. But it takes a team of peopleto manage. The easier option is to use a distribution.

Complicating the matter for NASA is that Kemp says many people who worked on Nebula left to take advantage of the opportunity that sprung up with the creation of OpenStack. “What that left NASA with was no private cloud team capability. So it’s not surprising that they had limited options,” he said.

It’s possible that NASA is still using OpenStack, either internally via a public cloud provider. The report mentions Amazon Web Services as a supplier of some services for NASA but otherwise doesn’t name other public cloud providers that NASA uses. It also mentions a $1.5 million contract for a cloud data center at Goddard, but doesn’t mention the technology used in it.

The report otherwise is quite harsh on NASA’s cloud usage track record. It found that of five contracts NASA signed onto for cloud services, “none… came close to meeting recommended best practices.”

Kemp found the report to be typical of an audit report in pointing out problems but also reflective of the situation of many organizations. “What you’re seeing here is NASA, like every other enterprise on earth, has a huge investment they make in IT and they’re trying to figure out what makes sense to run in public vs. private vs. traditional enterprise infrastructure,” he said.

Read more of Nancy Gohring's "To the Cloud" blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @ngohring and on Google+. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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