NASA Plays Key Role in Evolution of Cloud Computing

March 13, 2013

Cloud computing has been booming for years, and both the public and private sectors have made significant contributions to that movement. One of the key players has been the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – by working with OpenStack on its cloud services, NASA has lent credibility to a key cloud platform, bringing a relatively new technology into the mainstream.

NASA first began work on Nebula, its program for consolidating data into one unified online platform, in 2008. The administration's goal was the same goal anyone has with cloud computing – to improve efficiency and visibility while keeping private data secure.

The system worked, and eventually it drew attention from Rackspace, according to Computer World. NASA and Rackspace teamed up in 2010 to release OpenStack, an open-source cloud computing platform, and from there, the public began to take notice as well.

"NASA lent a lot of credibility when it came to this being a truly open and altruistic effort rather than a Rackspace-centric effort with some ulterior motive," said John Engates, Rackspace's chief technology officer. "People joining the community needed to feel confident that the project was not all for Rackspace. NASA made sure it was for everyone."

Moving to the cloud has only meant good things for NASA, not the least of which is money. In February, Business2Community estimated that NASA was saving $1 million a year simply by using technology. But they're seeing benefits elsewhere besides their bottom line – they've also been able to improve their environmental monitoring techniques and global response to natural disasters. Plus, they've made some data available to the public, delighting science geeks everywhere.

It was only a matter of time before NASA's cloud use caught on with the general public. That movement is now well underway – according to CDW's "State of the Cloud" report, 39 percent of organizations are using cloud solutions in the workplace regularly as of the end of 2012 – that's up from 28 percent in 2011.

And the movement keeps spreading. At a recent conference in Las Vegas, IBM announced that it too was joining forces with OpenStack engineers, saying that all of its cloud services would "be based on an open cloud architecture," according to Computer World.

Cloud computing has taken off in recent years, and its reach now extends far beyond the federal government. But it's important to note that without NASA's guiding influence, the cloud might not be where it is today.