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Cloud Computing and US Federal Gov
July 31, 2009 at 1:10 pm #76888
White House mulls making NASA a center for federal cloud computing
By Aliya Sternstein 07/24/2009
NASA and the Obama administration’s top technology officer are considering a NASA cloud computing prototype to test the president’s plan for agencies to outsource information technology services to a shared platform.
President Obama has called for slashing federal IT infrastructure costs by relying on cloud computing, a process where agencies pay for Internet access to shared hardware and software that is housed in an off-site data center.
One of those sites could be NASA. Officials at the space agency and the Office of Management and Budget have “broached the idea of NASA becoming an IT service provider,” said Mike Hecker, NASA’s associate chief information officer for architecture and infrastructure. But, “NASA as an IT service provider takes us into a new realm. We’re still debating if that’s a good idea or not.”
NASA is developing a cloud computing model, called Nebula, to support some of its projects. For example, the agency uses Nebula to share NASA images and statistics with international partners and academic institutions. The system provides high-capacity computing, storage and network connectivity.
Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, Obama’s top technology executive, is examining many alternatives for innovation in the cloud, including using Nebula as a centralized platform to service multiple agencies, OMB officials said. Chris Kemp, CIO at NASA’s Ames Research Center, who is spearheading the program, is working with the federal government’s cloud working group, officials added.
NASA has not committed to developing Nebula into a governmentwide cloud platform, Hecker emphasized. The agency’s mission is to explore space and science for the benefit of the public, with IT serving as a tool to fulfill that mission, officials stressed.
“Providing IT services to others is not something the agency has historically done,” he said. “However, cloud computing does provide some interesting opportunities and it is being discussed internally.”
But given Ames’ Silicon Valley location, the center’s prowess in supercomputing and Nebula’s compliance with federal IT standards, the platform could be a good fit for governmentwide cloud computing, analysts said.
Nebula “could be used in a way to run some new applications on it, to see whether it would make sense,” said Ben Pring, a research vice president at Gartner Research who studies cloud computing. “Absolutely it would be a good, smart thing to do that.”
Obama’s fiscal 2010 budget proposal envisions optimizing cloud computing by “scaling pilots to full capabilities and providing financial support to accelerate migration,” the budget stated. The fiscal plan acknowledges the effort will involve upfront costs, but the expense should be more than offset by savings from consolidating data centers.
But the White House’s drive to turn the federal IT infrastructure into a cloud-computing business model will entail an estimated 10-year migration because several hurdles first must be cleared, including inadequate data protection, the upfront costs, and overcoming the change-averse attitude of the federal bureaucracy, Pring said.
“The whole notion of cloud models is obviously being pushed from the top down, and I think that’s to be applauded,” he said. “Having said that, I think there’s a significant journey ahead. Cloud isn’t going to replace all preceding models anytime soon.”
NASA is at the beginning of the journey. At present, the agency’s IT systems are not centralized. It has about 70 data centers with various levels of efficiency and availability that NASA is trying to contract to two outsourced data centers.
The primary goal of concentrating IT operations is to improve IT security, Hecker said. Collaboration among employees and cost-cutting also are important objectives, he added.
July 31, 2009 at 1:15 pm #76890
Another article this one from Information Week
NASA’s Next Mission: Cloud Computing
Posted by John Foley @ 01:30:PM | Jul,30, 2009
As NASA prepares for the return of space shuttle Endeavour and, beyond that, its next-generation Aris moon rocket, NASA’s IT experts are thinking about what’s next for the agency’s data centers. An early adopter of cloud computing, NASA could play a central role in the U.S. government’s move to virtualized, on-demand IT resources.
As I reported in May, NASA’s Ames Research Center has begun creating a cloud computing environment called Nebula. Led by NASA Ames CIO Chris Kemp, the project is fairly well along. NASA has created a detailed IT architecture, and there’s even a Nebula Web site, nebula.nasa.gov.
The Nebula cloud is in limited beta test now, and NASA is accepting applications from interested parties that want to give it a try. Take note: NASA is making Nebula available not just to its own staffers, but to employees and contractors of other federal agencies.
That’s significant because it positions NASA to eventually provide cloud services beyond its own internal needs. Is that a good idea? NASA is asking itself the same question. “NASA as a service provider takes us into a new realm,” Mike Hecker, NASA’s associate CIO for architecture and infrastructure, told Nextgov.com. “We’re still debating if that’s a good idea or not.” According to Nextgov.com, NASA has discussed the possibility with the Office of Management and Budget, which is where Federal CIO Vivek Kundra works.
This gets to the concept of cloud computing “nodes,” which InformationWeek has touched on several times recently. (See “US Agencies Think About Establishing Cloud Nodes” and “How Government’s Driving Cloud Computing Ahead.”) The basic idea is that the feds would devise a common cloud architecture, and agencies like NASA would link their clouds together in one, big, interoperable uber-cloud.
There’s reason to believe that NASA is well suited to support a major cloud node. It tends to be a more compute-intensive organization than most U.S. civilian agencies and more open than defense and intelligence agencies. What’s more, the cyclical nature of NASA’s missions would seem to lend itself to the cloud model, with spikes and dips in computing activity. Presumably, NASA sometimes has spare compute cycles and other IT infrastructure that could be shared in a fashion similar to Amazon Web Services.
NASA’s IT team has demonstrated high interest in cloud computing, which means there’s no huge organizational barrier to overcome to make this happen. Tom Soderstrom, CTO of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, has been on the road visiting cloud computing practitioners as a way of coming up to speed. And NASA Goddard CIO Linda Cureton has been urging her counterparts not to wait, but to take their first steps toward cloud computing. Apparently, Cureton’s message is getting through.
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