Born from NASA, Nebula Aims to “Disrupt and Democratize” Cloud Computing

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public cloud. But while OpenStack is free, setting up and administering a private cloud is still tricky. “We’re saying that for people who don’t want to hire a big engineering team to administer OpenStack—if they really just want a turnkey private cloud—they can come to us,” Kemp says.

Nebula and its investors are betting that the movement Amazon started, and that Rackspace and many other “Infrastructure as a Service” providers are pushing forward, is destined to roll through most of the corporate computing world, the way minicomputers did in the 1970s and 1980s and client-server computing did in the 1990s. Nebula will “disrupt and democratize cloud computing,” Kleiner’s Doerr predicted in a statement released on the day of Nebula’s launch. He went on to say that Kemp’s team “has the unique expertise” to deliver the technology in a simple, scalable, low-cost manner. That remains to be seen—the company doesn’t expect to begin field trials of its appliance until the fourth quarter of this year, and there are plenty of other companies, including big ones like IBM and EMC, developing their own private-cloud appliances.

But Doerr is right about one thing—none of the competitors can count the pioneers of OpenStack as founders. More than 100 companies are already contributing to the OpenStack ecosystem, which seems likely to evolve into the open-source foundation for a broader cloud-computing movement, the same way open-source tools such as Linux and Apache undergirded the Web revolution.

But Linux probably wouldn’t have spread as fast as it did unless for-profit companies like Red Hat had come along to make it safer and easier for enterprises to use. So, is Nebula to OpenStack as Red Hat is to Linux? “It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s an incredibly good analogy,” Kemp says.

Red Hat is in the service-and-support business, while Nebula intends to make money selling hardware. And Red Hat created many diverging versions of Linux, whereas Nebula’s hardware will always run the latest standard implementation of OpenStack, according to Kemp. But the analogy holds in that Nebula, following in Red Hat’s footsteps, will be able to add security, chargeback mechanisms, and other features that will make operating a private cloud feasible for companies that would never consider using a public cloud like Amazon’s.

Nebula’s isn’t building its first enterprise cloud appliance from scratch. Kemp says it will be built around a 10-gigabit Ethernet switch made by Arista Networks, the Santa Clara, CA-based high-speed networking company founded in 2005 by none other than Bechtolsheim. Since many companies are already in the process of upgrading the networks in their data centers from 100-megabit Ethernet to 10 gigabits, Kemp reasons, they’re likely to be in the market for switches already. “We realized that if we could … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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