A new cloud infrastructure provider expects to “disrupt and democratize cloud computing” using open source cloud software and commodity hardware.

Nebula hopes to simplify private cloud creation
Nebula, founded by former NASA CTO Chris Kemp, was launched at OSCon this week. Nebula borrows its name and initial technology from a project that Kemp led at NASA, and was later open sourced by NASA into a project named OpenStack.

Nebula plans to sell hardware appliances to create private clouds using your existing or new compute and storage hardware. OpenStack is used to allocate compute and storage resources to a given user or application in an elastic fashion.

Each Nebula hardware appliance is able to control up to 20 compute and storage nodes within your private cloud. If your private cloud has hundreds of nodes, as would be expected, you’ll need multiple Nebula appliances.

A recent survey of 500 enterprises found that the average enterprise maintains 662 physical servers. Creating a private cloud out of these 662 physical servers would require 33 Nebula appliances, and that’s before including any storage nodes into the calculations.

According to VentureBeat, Kemp is quoted saying:

You buy 10 or 100 of our boxes and plug a whole rack of servers into our boxes. It is data center infrastructure, offered as a service. This is the kind of shift that has to happen if the data center revolution is going to proceed.

Depending on the pricing for these Nebula appliances, buying tens or hundreds of Nebula appliances could start adding up to significant costs. That said, Nebula claims to be able to help build a private cloud in minutes, not months, thereby providing time to value benefits that Nebula would seek to monetize.

Nebula’s attempt to differentiate through openness
Nebula’s approach is interesting and follows the growing adoption of appliances optimized for specific purposes and the specific trend of using appliances as building blocks for a private cloud platform.

Vendors such as IBM, Oracle and VMware/Cisco/EMC (VCE) already offer, to varying degrees, appliances to help build out your private cloud. Even Microsoft has spoken about an Azure appliance, although it’s been delayed several times.

Nebula hopes to differentiate from better known IT vendors by leveraging the openness of its cloud infrastructure software layer.

Nebula claims that the appliance is built on the same APIs and runtime as OpenStack, but adds numerous security, management, and platform enhancements. It remains to be seen whether these additional enhancements will also be open sourced. If these enhancements are not open sourced, the system’s openness would come into question.

Does an open source foundation matter in the cloud
Nebula’s product page claims the following key value propositions: Open Software, Open Hardware, DevOps Compatible, Self-Service, Security, Massive Scalability, Elastic Infrastructure and High Availability.

The only value proposition on this list that IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, or VMware/Cisco/EMC couldn’t claim equally as well is that they provide “open software”. I say equally as well, as “open software” is a broad term.

Nebula’s key differentiator is that their solution is based on an open stack. But does that matter to buyers? Would it matter to you?

Microsoft’s Gianugo Rabellino, Senior Director for Open Source at Microsoft, explained Microsoft’s stance that as long as the APIs and protocols for the cloud are open, customers care less about the openness of the underlying platform.

This view is shared by the newly launched Open Cloud Initiative. Open Cloud Initiative director Sam Johnston writes

…so long as the interfaces and formats are open, and there are “multiple full, faithful and interoperable implementations” (at least one of which is Open Source) then it’s “Open Cloud”.

Enterprise IT vendors have a long history of cooperating on standards and competing on the basis of their implementation. This too will occur at the cloud level. And when it does, differentiation will shift towards things like ease of use, interoperability with existing assets, high performance and total cost of ownership.

Therein lies the challenge for Nebula. Their key differentiator, openness, isn’t a sustainable advantage.

I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.”