Open government innovation from NASA fuels launch of OpenStack and Nebula

Earlier today, a new startup emerged from stealth at OSCON in Portland, Oregon. Nebula looks to democratize cloud computing with open source hardware.

Nebula appliance As Venturebeat reported, by combining OpenStack with Facebook’s OpenCompute project, Nebula could bring cloud computing to everyone with a cloud appliance.

It’s going to be a while before we’ll know if this bold vision comes to pass, but it’s important to be clear: this private sector innovation and startup is the outgrowth of one of NASA’s open government initiatives, where a technology developed by the government was released to the public to innovate upon.

That outcome can be at least partially attributed to Nebula CEO Chris Kemp, the former NASA CTO for IT, built a cloud “dream team” for Nebula’s launch from Kleiner Perkins’ basement. Nebula has the potential to bring cheaper private clouds to enterprises and small to medium-sized business to government, which could stand to leapfrog a generation of technology. (Putting a cloud behind an organization’s firewall could also address the security and compliance challenges that have hampered adoption of public cloud by enterprise and government users.) You can watch the announcement of Nebula at OSCON in the video below:

I talked with Kemp yesterday about OpenStack, his new startup, enterprise IT and innovation in government. “I am just unbelievably excited about all of the innovation that’s going to happen, he said. “When I left NASA, there was an open playing field. Citrix has bet their company on a tech that emerged out of NASA. Rackspace has incorporated it as well. Dell and HP are working with OpenStack too.”

Kemp, at least for now, doesn’t appear to be looking towards acquisition as his exit strategy. “We’re building a whole new company,” he said. “It’s not going to acquired by Dell or another large vendor. It’s too important to be lost in a big organization. The opportunity here is to build a lasting company that plays a key role in how computing unfolds.”

It’s the potential to change the world that seems to have brought a glint to Kemp’s eye. “This is why I left NASA,” he said. “I had this idea, this concept, I knew it had the potential to change the world, I knew it was time to build that. There are things you can only do inside of government, and there are things you can only do outside of government.”

In at least one sense, this outcome is about Gov 2.0 versus the beast of bureaucracy, once again. “The thing I learned at NASA is the biggest barrier to this stuff is the culture within the organization,” said Kemp. “It’s people. In a federal agency, people have been there forever and have spent tons of money on tools. What we’re doing with this appliance will disrupt a lot of that.”

Kemp also offered a suggestion to government agencies with innovators trying to make a difference. “The real shame is that you take the most risk-averse people in the world – government civil servants – and make them take the most dangerous leap, to end their careers, to be entrepreneurs. Imagine if government allowed people to take one year without pay, try to create something, and then return to public service.”

While that may be an unlikely dream, Kemp has left government himself, jumping to an endeavour that has the potential to disrupt the future of computing. “We want people to build on a platform that isn’t unnecessarily expensive or reliable,” he said. “We’re selling a little box that creates an infrastructure service and supporting it. You plug it in at the top of the rack where basically joins ‘the collective.’ It becomes part of a massive compute and storage cloud that’s compatible with Amazon and allows anyone to use a cloud that based on standards.
And they can do it with the cheapest hardware.”

Open source has been a key component of NASA’s open government work. Now one of its open source projects may become part of the work of many other people in industries unrelated to aerospace. With the launch of Nebula, an open government initiative looks set to create significant value — and jobs — in the private sector, along with driving open innovation in information technology.

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.


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