NASA touts Nebula, faults the public cloud

Nebula, the open-source infrastructure-as-a-service platform NASA began developing in 2009, has exceeded its initial goal of discouraging agency web developers from building rogue computing sites, according to an Aug. 16 whitepaper (.pdf) written by James Williams, chief information officer at NASA Ames Research Center. "During its short tenure, Nebula helped agency scientists and administrators realize cloud computing potential for processing data more quickly, storing it more efficiently, and sharing it with colleagues and the public more effectively," writes Williams. The NASA paper sheds light on what Williams believes are Nebula's greatest assets: its "instant-on" infrastructure, scalability and flexible environment. It also details the decisions that led to Nebula's development. According to Williams, NASA at one time considered using a commercially available cloud service. However, public clouds could not meet NASA's scientific computing and capacity requirements. "Concerns about data security, corporate governance and reliability also made it clear that public cloud options would not be feasible for the agency," he says. Tornadoes striking Alabama in April 2011 drove home the importance of "instant on" IT infrastructure, Williams says. NASA's Short-term Prediction Research and Transition (SPoRT) Center at the Marshall Space Flight Center turned to Nebula when it was unable to host an application on its internal servers because it would disrupt the workflow of other, critical processes. Nebula hosted a tiling application which drew from multiple data sources, including hi-resolution images of the tornado-damaged regions acquired from the Terra satellite, reports the paper. SPoRT used Nebula to quickly obtain bandwidth and "play in a sandbox" for easy and fast configuration testing of the application. The NASA Center for Climate Simulation also tapped Nebula to help it deal with "massive amounts of observational and model data used in NASA's climate and weather studies," writes Williams. Through the Integrated Rule-Oriented Data Management System, Nebula demonstrated the ability to federate--users could analyze, search for and download data through a single iRODS web interface. In the paper's final success story, Williams recounts how Mississippi's John C. Stennis Space Center used Nebula to process data for an environmental project that required linking biological conditions in the Gulf of Mexico to nutrient concentrations, satellite imagery and other data stored at Goddard. "Nebula enabled the remote processing by delivering a flexible computational environment that can be customized for specific processing needs," Williams says. For more: - see the NASA whitepaper Related Articles: NASA and Census Bureau offer tips for cloud computing success NASA reports breakthrough in space weather monitoring Federal data center closures by the numbers
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