NASA releases open source cloud platform

US space agency NASA has developed the first federal government open source cloud computing platform which will be used to provide the organisation with computing, storage and networks services for its research community.

The new cloud platform is aptly called Nebula, a project NASA has been working on for the last two years but only recently completed. The agency saw the need for cloud computing after it discovered growing inefficiencies in how it operated, driving up research and energy costs due to disparate research programmes operating in a manner alienated from each other.

James Williams, Chief Information Officer of Ames Research Centre at NASA said that this was a project they’ve been working on in the background for some time and that it has already paid off, allowing testing of predictive weather modelling for the Marshall Space Flight Centre to be set up in four days on the cloud – compared to it previously taking a month to get working in a less unified environment.

The core code behind Nebula was released as part of OpenStack, an open source cloud computing initiative operating under the Apache Licence. NASA joined forces with Rackspace Cloud to get it working, but it also has support from many big name companies, such as Intel, Dell, and Citrix Systems. It currently has hundreds of developers working on it, making it a viable alternative to the paid cloud models currently available on the market.

Williams said the cloud platform could save taxpayers millions of dollars in the long run, but they may not see an immediate return since the entire project cost in the region of $10 million. However, NASA expects to save money over time as the cloud will cut power costs and pool resources into an amalgamated entity, which will also save on storage costs.

NASA is also planning to release a shared development framework, code respository and a number of web services relating to the Nebula cloud project in 2011.