Former NASA CTO launches cloud appliance

The appliance runs OpenStack and is meant to ease the development of private enterprise clouds

The former CTO of NASA and co-founder of OpenStack on Wednesday unveiled a new appliance designed to make it easy for enterprises to build private clouds.

The idea is to eliminate the customization required to build most private clouds, said Chris Kemp, CEO and founder of Nebula, the company offering the appliance. "In order to see enterprises adopt private clouds, it has to be turnkey. They can't be in a position where they have to spin up a huge consulting effort and develop a customized cloud," he said.

Nebula has loaded OpenStack onto an appliance, adding security and management features aimed at making the appliance work well with existing compliance and security procedures in enterprises. It's designed to work with the cheapest available servers. Each appliance has a 10GB switch and 48 ports, so 24 2U servers can connect to it, Kemp said.

Users could theoretically plug hundreds of the appliances together to run tens of thousands of compute nodes and petabytes of storage, he said. The company is working on the next release of the product, which would support exascale storage, he said.

The appliance is designed to work with the least-expensive servers on the market, such as the Dell C Series servers and those that comply with the Facebook Open Compute Project. Facebook created the Open Compute Project to share specifications it developed to build stripped-down, low-cost servers for its data centers.

Kemp hopes that the Nebula appliance will let enterprises mimic the move toward very inexpensive and efficient hardware used by the largest Internet operations like Google's and Facebook's. Over the past quarter of a century or so, enterprise applications have begun to rely on very high-availability infrastructure, forcing enterprises to buy expensive hardware that includes inefficiencies like redundant power supplies, he said.

"'Net companies have done the opposite. They've said, 'let's build infrastructure services that we can scale out and operate on fundamentally unreliable hardware.' So what we're doing is we're enabling enterprises to adopt that same architecture that we're seeing in these large Internet companies," he said.

The appliance won't be commercially available until next year. Nebula is starting a series of trials in September with companies in the biotech, financial services, energy and media industries, he said. The pilots will run through the first quarter of next year and the product will be released after that.

Nebula has not figured out pricing for the appliance yet. The company decided to start talking about the product this far in advance of its release in part to try to attract talent, Kemp said. "We need to recruit the smartest people in the world to build this platform. We're recruiting people from these 'Net companies that built this infrastructure," he said.

The company already counts engineers and executives from Google, Amazon, Dell, Rackspace and Microsoft among its employees.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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