Looking at NASA’s Nebula in 2010

We told you earlier about the Digital Government Conference.

One of the speakers was Chris Kemp, Chief Information Officer at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

He gave a presentation, Government Cloud Computing for 2010: Moving Towards Efficient Operations.

After his talk, we were able to catch up with him — and we bring you excerpts of our conversation with him now.

Fed Cloud Blog: Let’s start out with the 2010 budget guidance. We know there’s some sensitivities around it, but you mentioned the fact that there’s some requirements — some language — around cloud. Can you offer us a little more about it?

Chris Kemp: The first thing that I read a couple of months ago was that pilot projects should be pursued by federal agencies. Nebula is a pilot project that NASA’s been pursuing, and I think that other projects within other agencies, like DISA working with RACE, as an example of a pilot project — until we start having pilot projects, we don’t understand how to change our policies, procedures, processes and begin inserting the wedges in our budgets to start being more service-oriented and less infrastructure-oriented. So, I think it is necessary that, as soon as possible, agencies begin experimenting with the technology to begin understanding what impact this will have on their budgets and their infrastructure.

FCB: You mentioned that you guys are working on three or four different pilots, Nebula being one. You talked about the Microsoft telescope project with Mars, another one with Google — what’s the status. Are we looking at those happening in 2010 and beyond? Have they already started?

CK: I believe that, early next year, you’re going to see a full public release of Mars. This was something we announced we were working on a few months ago, so we’re going to be literally allowing every American to zoom in and see what’s going on in real time on Mars. So, every time we get a new image, we’re going to be recompiling it. It’s going to be live from the surface of Mars.

We’re also using Nebula to do some of the data processing behind Google, as well. So our goal is to use these platforms that have quite a following to make NASA’s mission more accessible to the public.

FCB: The idea behind this, we imagine, is that you have all this data. It’s publicly available. There’s no sensitivities behind it — let’s put it on the cloud and see what happens. Is that kind of the bigger idea?

CK: Right. A lot of this data has been on NASA Web sites but, if you’re a 5th grade student working on a science project, being able to go to a JPL Web site and pull down image ABC123 from camera C with with a spectral — that’s hard. Going into Google Earth, which you have probably on your computer in your classroom, zooming in and being able to see all the rich 3D panorama content that we’ve created — being able to go into Worldwide Telescope and see the tours of nebulas and planets and constellations — is a really new way for us to engage the public. Fortunately we’ve been able to do public-private partnerships with Microsoft and Google, so taxpayers aren’t even paying for this. We’re being reimbursed for the time spent making our data accessible on these platforms.

FCB: One of the things you mentioned about Nebula is moving it to Apps.gov within the next few months. You’re going to also release the business model so people can see the breakdown of how money’s being spent. It seems like you guys are not trying to make this a fee-for-service, but you’re really trying to say — this is what you can do with cloud. This is how it works.

CK: We’re trying to accelerate NASA’s ability to leverage this technology to support our mission. So, as we work on Nebula, what we’re trying to do is bake in the high data rates, the high performance, the requirements that we have as an agency into the DNA of cloud computing so we’re able to buy these things and procure these things from commerical providers in the future — that’s already baked i


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