Under the recently-completed Vivek Kundra era, the U.S. federal government became an aggressive proponent of cloud computing. Much of this was pure folly leading to wasteful IT assessments and check-box planning, but the feds did come up with a few model cloud computing projects. One of these, NASA Nebula, was a very successful cloud computing platform built on Open Source and used to support research and scientific computing requirements at NASA Ames.
I had the opportunity to meet Chris Kemp, CTO of NASA and the spiritual leader of the Nebula project. While the technology world is full of cloud computing posers, Chris is the real deal -- he and his team actually built a production-quality cloud computing platform for a very demanding user base. When I presented with Chris at a federal cloud computing summit, there was a standing room only crowd in attendance. With all of the cloud computing pressure being placed on Federal IT folks, they wanted to hear from someone with actual depth and experience.
I just learned today that Chris has taken his cloud computing experience at NASA to form a new startup called Nebula. Nebula has designed a "cloud controller" based upon OpenStack software, that sits in front of off-the-shelf Intel boxes and turns them into a private cloud. No customization, software integration, configuration hassles, or open source wrangling, just a turnkey cloud platform. Apparently, Nebula is designed for enterprise organizations as it provide strong functionality for management/operations and massive scale.
Yeah, I know there are other similar products out there, but I don't think you can underestimate Chris's experience with cloud computing in this market. Nebula is backed by top-tier VCs and has received seed money from Andy Bechtolsheim -- pretty good pedigree. Nebula is also testing its appliance with Dell PowerEdge and Facebook Open Compute servers. As I look at the cloud computing tea leaves, I think Nebula has a great opportunity because:
1. Simplicity matters. Forget the industry hype, no enterprise organization is running to cloud computing anytime soon. Rather, they are easing into it with proof-of-concepts and specific workloads. Nebula supports this by providing a turnkey appliance that makes it easy to start and then accelerate this effort. This is a perfect match for Dell and its value proposition. Dell now has all of the hardware piece parts and will surely deliver its customary ease-of-use systems management. Nebula could be an ideal cloud computing complement.
2. The appliance is secondary. A lot of people will make the mistake of classifying Nebula as "cloud appliance vendor." Wrong. The appliance is needed to make distribution and installation as easy as possible but make no mistake, Nebula is a software company that will add value on top of OpenStack and leading hardware like Arista switches and Dell servers. I imagine different appliance packages for different use cloud computing use cases (i.e. processor-heavy applications, storage-heavy applications, clustered file systems, etc.) in the near future.
3. VMware pricing may not be cloud friendly to cash strapped organizations. Yes, VMware has a market advantage but many organizations already suffer from VMware sticker shock in the virtualization world. Recession-centric organizations like state/local government, academia, and real estate want the benefits of enterprise cloud without the price premium. Nebula is a great fit here as it eliminates the need for pricey software licenses and expensive hardware.
It's a big market and there are lots of vendors out there with good ideas and cloud computing experience. Nebula's value-add is that it takes its own experience and delivers it in an easy-to-consume package. This could help eliminate a lot of the geekiness around cloud and help enterprises get real value sooner rather than later.