NASA Ditching Open Source OpenStack? Not So Fast

by Sean Michael Kerner

While Amazon boasts that NASA is saving $1M by moving to AWS, the truth is a bit more complex.

The open source OpenStack cloud platform was launched by NASA in partnership with Rackspace back in 2010. It's an effort that now has over 180 participating companies, including AT&T, Dell, HP, Cisco and IBM.

NASA's contribution to OpenStack came in the form of the core compute infrastructure that is a critical part of the overall platform. This week, Jeff Barr of Amazon's Web Services, which is competitive with OpenStack, posted a blog with the title, "NASA Saves Nearly $1M Per Year By Using AWS."

The Amazon post was based on a blog post from NASA CIO Linda Cureton. Cureton notes that NASA is using Amazon Web Services for enterprise infrastructure.

Open Source Servers"This cloud-based model supports a wide variety of Web applications and sites using an interoperable, standards-based, and secure environment while providing almost a million dollars in cost savings each year," Cureton wrote.

Cureton also mentioned that the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is using the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud platform to host 250,000 pictures of Mars. At no point in her post about NASA's IT reform did Cureton make any mention of NASA's use of OpenStack.

That doesn't mean, however, that NASA is forgoing the use of OpenStack.

Joshua McKenty is the former NASA cloud architect that ran NASA's Nebula project, which was folded into OpenStack Compute in 2010. McKenty left NASA in 2011 and founded his own OpenStack startup called Piston Computing.

McKenty told InternetNews that NASA's IT is managed by dozens of semi-autonomous executives.

"While NASA has stopped funding active development of OpenStack as it has matured, which is very much in keeping with their focus on basic and early-stage applied research, there are still organizations within NASA that are actively scaling up their OpenStack adoption ," McKenty explained.

Similiarly there are other organizations within NASA that are using using Amazon Web Services, super computing, grid computing, traditional client-server, mainframes, GPUs and other forms of compute infrastructure.

As to how McKenty knows specifically where NASA is using OpenStack, it's because he literally has his hands on a few of the ogranization's projects.

"As Piston Cloud, we're actively engaged with groups at two separate NASA centers on their OpenStack engagements," McKenty said.

The move from research to commercial production is a common theme across the history of NASA, both past and present.

"NASA never stopped using space pens or aluminum foil — but they did stop investing in R&D and manufacturing of those items, once there were commercial entities engaged," McKenty said. "That's part of the mission — it means we won. It's exactly the same thing as NASA's relationship with SpaceX."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

This article was originally published on Friday Jun 15th 2012
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