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CeBit 2015: Co-founder Chris Kemp on OpenStack's beginnings and the future of Cloud

Allan Swann | May 8, 2015
Former NASA CTO and co-founder of OpenStack, Chris Kemp, took the stage at CeBit Australia 2015 to challenge proprietary Cloud models and the virtues of an open standards Cloud environment.

The project drew a lot of attention, which eventually lead to a call from the Whitehouse's newly appointed CIO, Vivek Kundra. Kundra had been following the project and was invited to help launch the US government's Cloud strategy in 2009. President Obama's administration was looking at Cloud to help save the government tens of millions of dollars in IT costs.

"The Government in the United States is the largest consumer of IT in the world, they were spending $90bn dollars of the US budget every year on IT. The opportunity to save money was significant, because they had so many datacentres, and so many redundant and failed projects. The idea was that Cloud would mean that they wouldn't have to build this stuff themselves, and save billions of dollars."

Kemp used the infrastructure platform developed, NASA Nebula, to produce the government's - a website that showed the public how it was spending "every penny" of the taxpayers money - some $4 trillion dollars across state, federal and the private sector.

The website needed to suck up all the data from every government agency, and present it in an intuitive way via simple visualisations, such as graphs and flowcharts. It was powered by the very first "alpha" version of OpenStack.

This effectively made NASA a service provider to the Whitehouse, funded by the GSA (General Services Administration).

Being a government project OpenStack couldn't be privatised, and there were no plans to on sell or profit from the technology. This also meant the budget was limited, and attracting high level talent was tough - especially since Kemp says that top shelf talent hates working on closed standards, and hates working in secret government labs.

"We knew if we could make this technology widely available, and get people to embrace it, it could become a new standard. This would benefit NASA because it would mean that we could have other parties providing computing resources back to us," he said.

"So we open sourced the entire code. Philosophically, it also made a lot of sense to us. We didn't think that taxpayers should be paying for code that was proprietary. The code, the intellectual property, the knowledge created in that project should be open source.

Within a few weeks, Kemp was approached by Rackspace Hosting, who were also in the process of open sourcing their technology. Combining their storage technology with NASA's compute, OpenStack, as we know it now, was born.

"It was an overnight success. We got a number of companies involved very quickly, that also shared our vision for an open source Cloud platform. An AWS, or Google, or Azure that you could just run in your own datacentre, Infrastructure-as-a-Service. It's a way you can treat an entire room full of computers as one system," he said.


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