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NASA and OpenStack not lost in space -- or in the cloud

David Fishman - June 29, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, just before GigaOM Structure (the cloud equivalent of short Indian Wedding), Twitter and the headlines rang out with the news that NASA, home of the space program, the Apollo moonshot, the International Space Station, and the space shuttles, was retiring yet another of its signature innovations: OpenStack. According to Information Week's headline, "NASA Drops OpenStack For Amazon Cloud"

NASA's prestige and participation has been a selling point for advocates of the OpenStack open source cloud project, which NASA co-founded with San Antonio infrastructure-as-a-service provider RackSpace. Unfortunately, they'll have to get along without NASA from here on. ... In a June 8 blog, NASA CIO Linda Cureton dispensed with the diplomacy: "NASA [has] shifted to a new Web services model that uses Amazon Web Services for cloud-based enterprise infrastructure," she wrote.

Only that's not what Linda Cureton, NASA CIO, said in her June 8 blog post:

NASA shifted to a new web services model that uses Amazon Web Services for cloud-based enterprise infrastructure. 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.

What? NASA is using another cloud? There's more than one cloud out there? As it turns out, this is not breaking news. In fact, nowhere in her blog post did Cureton say anything about dumping OpenStack clouds. But the Mainstream Media, perhaps with a little assist from well-funded PR originating in Seattle, gave us the cloud equivalent of 'Dewey defeats Truman' and CNN's 'Court Strikes Down Individual Mandate and Obamacare' from yesterday.
Cureton didn't let this misperception stand, to her credit and NASA's. This time, let's give the news media credit, too. GigaOm's Barb Darrow writes "NASA CIO: We still use OpenStack — and Amazon and Microsoft Azure …" . And HPC In the Cloud's Robert Gelber posted a Q&A with the NASA CIO earlier this week:

The organization migrated a number of enterprise applications to Amazon Web Services as well as deploying their "Be a Martian Project" on Windows Azure in what seemed to be a departure from OpenStack. HPC in the Cloud spoke with Cureton about the new direction and NASA's standing with the cloud platform they co-founded.
Q (HPC in the Cloud): Can you tell us why NASA suspended development on OpenStack?

A (Linda Cureton): It's not NASA's role to develop software, especially software that has a commercial application. That's the way we do other technology, like our space technology. We may work in the early points of the lifecycle to develop the technology, but then at some point when it becomes commercially viable, it's not really appropriate for NASA to continue development. So many other entities can do it much better than NASA, it's their business. ...
...I want to make a point here, that a decision for Amazon is not a decision against OpenStack. It's just that the commercial offerings are very competitive, and that's what we found when we did make the decision to put this out in the open source community, because we couldn't keep up with it and we found that we were just putting features that other offers like Microsoft and Amazon could do better, faster, cheaper, all that stuff. For us to compete with them with our internal instantiation of OpenStack didn't seem like a good business deal.

So, 'a number of enterprise applications' are not running on OpenStack. A number of HPC applications are not running on AWS, either. Microsoft's Azure is serving a new marketplace for that other Seattle outfit, on Mars (no Martian contributors to OpenStack, as far as we know).
The fact remains that NASA is doing some cool stuff on OpenStack, is working with Mirantis, and like the rest of the marketplace, is shopping for the best cloud technology for the job. We knew they were smart. And like the Supreme Court decision, it pays to RTF written doc.

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