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NASA Cloud Computing Platform: Nebula
06.07.10
Cloud Computing - Features and Benefits

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) describes cloud computing as "...a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction."

Scalability
Because computer and storage resources are provided through an abstracted interface, a cloud computing architecture allows the supported load on your web application to scale up dramatically, without the costs and delays of provisioning new infrastructure, re-engineering code, etc.

Cost Savings
Cloud computing systems can easily provide "pay-as-you-go" storage, processing and bandwidth services that fit your present needs. This means that you pay for only what you need, and you share economies of scale with the other cloud "tenants." Resource usage can be monitored, controlled and reported providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the services.

Deployment Speed
The integrated nature of hardware, software and resource provisioning allows rapid development and deployment of policy-compliant and secure web applications. Customers can unilaterally provision computing capabilities (virtual machine instances, storage, etc.) as needed automatically, without requiring human interaction. Also, a consistent set of frameworks, code repositories and web services means that your developers can concentrate on turning out quality applications without "reinventing the wheel" for low-level infrastructure requirements.

Resource Elasticity
Computing resources are aggregated to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to demand. This means that your web applications are supported by the full strength of the cloud's resources and will remain available during demand spikes.

Integrated Reporting and Policy Compliance
A cloud computing architecture provides a large organization with a single platform for reporting and policy compliance purposes. Managers can obtain detailed reports on resource use for all of their organizational elements, and can set boundaries within the cloud service levels to accomplish IT policy objectives while still delegating the day-to-day control of content and application development.

Source: Andrea M. Riso and Gretchen Curtis, Ames Research Center

Exterior view of a Nebula container.

Nebula is an open-source cloud computing platform that was developed to provide an improved alternative to building additional expensive data centers and to provide an easier way for NASA scientists and researchers to share large, complex data sets with external partners and the public.

Nebula is an excellent example of how NASA is championing ongoing partnerships with private industry and academia.

"When information is shared, everyone benefits," says NASA Chief Technology Officer for IT Chris C. Kemp.

"NASA Nebula is delivering a service that meets the computational requirements of NASA's scientific community," continues Ames Research Center Acting CIO James F. Williams.

Nebula helps NASA stakeholders bypass the often lengthy bureaucratic planning and procurement process for new IT infrastructure, ultimately saving NASA time and money.

There are many technological benefits exclusive to the Nebula cloud such as high-capacity computing and storage and network connectivity that is unmatched by commercial cloud providers (for more benefits see sidebar). The Ames Internet Exchange (AIX), which hosts the cloud, was formerly known as "Mae West," as one of the original nodes of the Internet.

Nebula's revolutionary container infrastructure features engineering for maximum flexibility, efficiency and scalability. Supporting NASA's missions, typically in collaboration with universities and other research organizations, Nebula's cloud computing approach to physical infrastructure must be as flexible as the services our partners host. Nebula's modular infrastructure can be modified, upgraded, expanded and even physically relocated as needs evolve. Additionally, each container holds up to 30,000 CPU cores or 30 petabytes (one petabyte equals one million gigabytes), which is 50 percent more energy efficient than commercial clouds.

The Nebula launch was as a pilot project at Ames Research Center. NASA's goal is that Nebula will serve as a Federal testbed for cloud technology. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recognizes the value of pilots, and is encouraging Federal Agencies to investigate how to take advantage of cloud computing.

Nebula is one of the very first government clouds that meets all Federal security requirements, including FISMA. It is one of the few clouds physically located within a Federally-secured perimeter. Nebula will address key IT concerns involving security, portability and interoperability that all government Agencies will face in implementing cloud computing.

"When development is open, everyone benefits," says Kemp.

Interior view of a Nebula container
Interior of a Nebula container at Ames has dense computing and storage capabilities and direct current power at rack and carriage level.