NASA's Nebula: a stellar example of private clouds in government

With so much concern about cost overruns and late IT projects, is cloud the best option available to the feds? Some private clouds provide working examples to move forward.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

"This is not an IT win; it's a business win. ... We don't use IT terms, but we use business terms, in our case it's exploring space."

Tom Sanderstrom, chief technology officer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., quoted in Government Info Security talking about cloud computing.

In my last post, we discussed calls for a tightening of federal initiatives in application modernization. With so much concern about cost overruns and late projects, is cloud the best option available?

NASA's Nebula, an infrastructure-as-a-service implementation for scientific data and Web-based applications, provides a stellar example of where and how the cloud can serve government operations. Tarak Modi, vice president and CTO of CALIBRE Systems, says this is one example of how cloud computing is becoming a greater part of federal government agency operations. In a new post and podcast over at ebizQ, Peter Schooff talked to Modi, who observed that Nebula is currently a private cloud, but eventually may evolve to a hybrid cloud to enable greater collaboration with the academic community and the public. (Disclosure: I am also a contributor to ebizQ.)

A great hope for facilitating reduced IT spending by federal agencies is cloud computing. The idea that federal managers can share applications built and run by somebody else at possibly a fraction of the cost has a lot of appeal up and down and around the government. And private cloud can soften many of the security concerns.

Modi reports he is seeing adoption in the federal space pick up, especially in terms of private cloud implementations -- which don't carry security concerns. There's NASA's Nebula, and another example includes DoD's RACE Program, started by the Defense Information Systems Agency, or DISA in October 2008. "It's managed completed within the existing DoD data centers and operates only on the DoD's internal network," Modi relates. "That's code language for it's a private cloud."

Another important development is FedRAMP, which "provides a unified government wide risk management framework that enables centralized security management of cloud computing for federal agencies," says Modi. Also, the General Services Administration or GSA has reissued its blanket purchase agreement or BPA for procuring infrastructure-as-a-service cloud computing services, which puts a greater onus on vendors to provide better security. The GSA program integrates with FedRAMP, to the point where FedRAMP certification is a must for vendors selling solutions to the federal government.

So, it appears the federal government is getting very serious about cloud computing, recognizing this as an essential delivery vehicle for IT capabilities from this point on.

UPDATE: NASA announced it will contribute its Nebula codebase to the new open-source OpenStack cloud initiative, in partnership with Rackspace Hosting. I cover some details over at SmartPlanet.)

(Photo: Crab Nebula, seen from the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA.)

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