Nebula Seeks to Remake Cloud Infrastructure With Commodity Hardware Appliance

By Kenneth Corbin (Send Email)
Posted Aug 16, 2011


In the era of big data, when the technology spread across businesses in all industries collects and produces ever-increasing volumes of information, sophisticated storage and analytic capabilities are proving to be a competitive differentiator. After all, what good is an ocean of data if the firm doesn't have the ability to store and process it?

Built on technology developed at NASA, this startup aims to 'democratize' large-scale cloud computing deployments.

To many observers, the answer is in the cloud. But within the rather broad framework of cloud computing, businesses face an array of obstacles. For the risk-averse, the public cloud model might not be a good fit. Then again, proprietary offerings from vendors like Microsoft or EMC can be costly and complex to deploy, and they can deliver more features than the client actually needs or wants. In addition, many firms simply aren't in the position to build their own cloud configuration in-house.

That's why Nebula is looking to "democratize" large-scale cloud computing with an open source hardware appliance that enables businesses to rapidly and inexpensively set up large and secure private cloud deployments.

Born from an ambitious computing project at NASA, Nebula describes its appliance as "turnkey" -- advertising that it can automatically configure and manage a cabinet full of commodity servers to create an elastic compute cloud that taps into hundreds or thousands of x86 machines through the OpenStack environment, a joint cloud venture that grew out of a partnership between NASA and cloud hosting vendor Rackspace. Depending on the configuration, each server would operate as a computing or storage node.

Chris Kemp, Nebula's founder and CEO and NASA's former CTO for IT, explained that one of the company's core goals is "increasing agility of IT."

"Many enterprises desire a more agile IT infrastructure -- they desire a secure, shared computing environment that provides a flexible, manageable, self-service cloud environment," Kemp said. "Nebula allows CIOs to securely provide private cloud services to employees with a Web-based self-service provisioning portal, APIs compatible with Amazon EC2 and S3, and command-line tools."

The firm just launched last month with support from renowned venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers as well as Highland Capital Partners. That backing followed seed funding from early Google investors Andy Bechtolsheim, David Cheriton and Ram Shriram.

In addition to Kemp's experience at NASA, Nebula's team includes veterans of Microsoft, Google, Dell, Amazon and Disney.

Kemp explained that Nebula will support servers running on Facebook's Open Compute Platform as well as provide certifications for servers from leading vendors, such as HP and Dell.

Kemp declined to elaborate on what is on the roadmap for the young company, and pricing is as of yet unannounced, although Nebula is billing "an affordable platform for big data projects" as a centerpiece of its value proposition.

"While we have not announced pricing yet, we intend for the appliance to be competitively -- one might even say disruptively -- priced," Kemp said.

Forrester analyst Stefan Ried called Nebula's technology a "quantum leap in cloud computing industrialization," writing that the firm's appliance will put it in direct competition with Microsoft's Azure and EMC's Vblock.

"But Nebula is more than just a hardware deliverable," Ried said. "Its mission is to transparently standardize the cloud hardware stack."

Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects for more than four years, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here

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