Inside Nebula's new 'turn-key' private cloud

Leveraging OpenStack and Amazon APIs, Nebula One promises fast deployment and superior ease-of-use

As amorphous as the concept of "the cloud" continues to be, we know it means instant gratification. It's a foregone conclusion that you can head over to Amazon Web Services and spin up some servers in about as much time as it takes to order a book. A new private cloud solution from OpenStack startup Nebula, called Nebula One, is looking to bring that Amazon Web Services experience to your own data center.

The goal of Nebula is to make it extremely simple to build and manage your own private cloud, one that's even easier to use than a public cloud. As Nebula co-founder and CEO Chris Kemp said while demonstrating the solution to InfoWorld, the goal was to deliver "the simplest and most elegant user experience that has ever been created for cloud." Before founding Nebula, Kemp served as CTO for NASA Ames Research Center, where he led the creation of the cloud compute service that became OpenStack Compute. 

Without spending time with Nebula One in the lab, I can't say how simple the solution really is, but everything about the design indicates that Nebula is traveling both the high road and the low road. The company is looking to foolproof the construction of a private cloud while still allowing heavy-duty back-end access via an assortment of standard APIs to facilitate the smooth functioning of cloud-aware applications.

Note the focus on cloud-aware applications. Nebula is not aiming to provide an enterprise-class virtualization platform, but a true cloud computing solution.

Private cloud in a box
Much as cloud computing in general is coloring outside the lines of the traditional computing environment, Nebula's architecture is beyond the norm. Nebula dispenses with the concept of servers, storage, and network as separate entities, instead encapsulating all of them into a centrally managed cluster. At the core of this cluster is the Nebula Cloud Controller, a 2U server that provides all of the smarts necessary to control up to 20 cluster nodes. It also includes 48 10G SFP+ ports built right into the controller chassis. Thus, no external switching is required.

To build a Nebula One cloud, you rack up a controller and connect between five and 20 industry-standard servers with dual 10G links to each, then uplink the controller to your network using one or more of the remaining eight 10G ports. You can also connect the IPMI or Lights-Out management ports on each server to an external switch and the controller to allow the controller to manage the server's power state and so forth.

At launch, Nebula will support a single Cloud Controller and up to 20 nodes, though the solution can scale out to a total of five Cloud Controllers and 100 nodes, all residing within the same logical cluster.

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