NASA wants its data up in the clouds

NASA is backing open source cloud computing with a single goal in mind: to stick to space exploration and stop running data centers.

NASA is backing open source cloud computing with a single goal in mind: to stick to space exploration and stop running data centers.

Chris Kemp, NASA's chief technology officer, said the agency's long-term plan is to move internal IT resources to external clouds over the next 10 to 20 years.

"I don't see why NASA needs to operate any [IT] infrastructure," he said at Gartner Inc.'s Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando last month. "We can build space probes, we can build deep space networks, we can stay out on the frontiers where the American public wants us to be, and not spend over $1 billion a year on IT infrastructure."

But many cloud platforms are still proprietary, which makes switching from one cloud provider to another difficult.

Hoping to solve that problem, NASA developed its own cloud computing software, Nebula, and released it as open source code. Cloud service provider Rackspace Hosting Inc. then incorporated the Nebula code into its own cloud management software. That led to OpenStack , which this summer emerged as an open source cloud platform.

For NASA, Kemp said, the benefits of open source are clear: It expands the number of developers working on OpenStack code and enables NASA to help influence its development and standards. "This furthers our objective of having off-the-shelf products that meet our requirements," which include less custom development and fewer proprietary systems, Kemp said.

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Patrick Thibodeau

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