NASA's Nebula: The Cloud in a Container

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The Verari data center container housing the NASA Nebula cloud computing application arrives at Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

The Verari data center container housing the NASA Nebula cloud computing application arrives at Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

What do you get when you combine cloud computing and data center containers? You get NASA’s Nebula, the space agency’s new data powerhouse, which provides on-demand computing power for NASA researchers. Nebula was recently cited by federal CIO Vivek Kundra as an example of the government’s ability to “leverage the most innovative technologies.”

The Nebula application lives in a 40-foot container at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. The “data center in a box” was built inside a FOREST container from Verari Systems, which is filled with Cisco Systems’ Unified Computing System and servers from Silicon Mechanics.

Science Compute Power on Demand
Nebula is a self-service platform built from open source software that provides high capacity computing, storage, and network connectivity for NASA research. “Nebula has been designed to automatically increase the computing power and storage available to science- and data-oriented web applications as demand rises,” explains Chris C. Kemp, Chief Information Officer of NASA Ames Research Center.

“The containerized data center solution from Verari Systems and Cisco delivers the foundation for a next-generation cloud computing environment that is responsive to the needs of our developers so they can focus on mission success – without worrying about the capacity and availability of the computing infrastructure,” said Kemp. “his solution is transforming how we think about NASA’s future computing environment.”

Momentum for Containers
Data center containers allow for rapid expansion of IT infrastructure, and can provide excellent energy efficiency by offering more precise control of airflow within the container. Microsoft and Google have used containers as building blocks in  large data centers, while some enterprises, universities and research ;abs have used containers to add incremental compute capacity.

“Verari is simplifying data center deployment,” says Dan Gatti, senior vice president of Worldwide Market Operations, Verari Systems. “Our customers are able to meet their computing and storage requirements much more quickly and easily than ever before. The planning cycle for a data center has been cut from two years down to 120 days, on average. And our customers are able to recognize huge cost savings in both OpEx and CapEx spend.”

“Cisco and Verari Systems are delivering the data center of the future – today,” said Brad Boston, senior vice president of Cisco Global Government Solutions Group. “As NASA’s Nebula Cloud Computing Environment demonstrates, customers have a great deal of flexibility in how they integrate computing, storage, and networking capabilities with Cisco UCS to ensure a solution designed for mission success today and in the future.”

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra tours the NASA Nebula data center container during a September visit to Ames Research Center.

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra tours the NASA Nebula data center container during a September visit to Ames Research Center.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor-in-chief of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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10 Comments

  1. Glad to see this got out - well done Rich!

  2. I wonder what level of compliance Nebula has? Do they back it up to another Storage container. I talk to DOD requirements often and Gov IT guys all have issues with security and compliance. Is that Crate bomb proof, have security and scanners, failover and HA built in... Its great that NASA is getting some new Toys, and I guess its interesting (depends on where you stand in this religious battel) it is mostly open source, but NASA and the US Government do realize you don't need to build Data centers anymore right? 2 years to build a datacenter. Please, why sink money and into that? There are many options out there aside from DIY. you can leverage partners and cloud services or much less upfront, less maintenance over time, and depending on needs, you can actually get more bang for the buck using specialized services.

  3. Rick, Great questions. Having been intimately involved in this project this year I will tell you that the focus is on unclassified data, not SBU and above. For compliance it is on the radar, but not something to be addressed right now. They deployed it at a NASA facility to put it on Federal land so they can take advantage of the inherent policies and infrastructure (physical) that is there. There is 100x the unclassified data compared to classified and that is what they want to optimize. NASA supports far more data distribution to R&D than to DOD related stuff. As far as the containers themselves go, they protected Obama at Ft. Hood and were stacked 3 high as a security perimeter so if the President's folks can trust them, I will too. Yes they are bomb proof - there is a youtube video showing a bomb being detonated next to one. The sides shake a little and some rivets pop out but that's it. Pockets of the Government understand that you don't need to build data centers but the politicians don't. They want jobs for their district. The NSA built 2 that were publicized - one in San Antonio, and the other in Utah. The VA is looking to build, and even NASA's former CIO floated an RFP out there to consolidate their footprint. The reasons for building are getting harder to justify and I agree with your stance that they can use 3rd parties and get a better version of what they want, faster, cheaper, and greener. But then again I am biased being in the business. I drink the container Kool Aid too. You cannot deploy a more cost effective, efficient, or green computing solution. The Government does understand that...

  4. Veraridude

    Verari is out of business as of today. Funny, the government would choose a vendor who cannot support their hardware............

  5. Simon

    C´m on... Only for simulations?