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Original author: 
Arik Hesseldahl

cloud1Here’s a name I haven’t heard in a while: Anso Labs.

This was the cloud computing startup that originated at NASA, where the original ideas for OpenStack, the open source cloud computing platform, was born. Anso Labs was acquired by Rackspace a little more than two years ago.

It was a small team. But now a lot of the people who ran Anso Labs are back with a new outfit, still devoted to cloud computing, and still devoted to OpenStack. It’s called Nebula. And it builds a turnkey computer that will turn an ordinary rack of servers into a cloud-ready system, running — you guessed it — OpenStack.

Based in Mountain View, Calif., Nebula claims to have an answer for any company that has ever wanted to build its own private cloud system and not rely on outside vendors like Amazon or Hewlett-Packard or Rackspace to run it for them.

It’s called the Nebula One. And the setup is pretty simple, said Nebula CEO and founder Chris Kemp said: Plug the servers into the Nebula One, then you “turn it on and it boots up cloud.” All of the provisioning and management that a service provider would normally charge you for has been created on a hardware device. There are no services to buy, no consultants to pay to set it up. “Turn on the power switch, and an hour later you have a petascale cloud running on your premise,” Kemp told me.

The Nebula One sits at the top of a rack of servers; on its back are 48 Ethernet ports. It runs an operating system called Cosmos that grabs all the memory and storage and CPU capacity from every server in the rack and makes them part of the cloud. It doesn’t matter who made them — Dell, Hewlett-Packard or IBM.

Kemp named two customers: Genentech and Xerox’s research lab, PARC. There are more customer names coming, he says, and it already boasts investments from Kleiner Perkins, Highland Capital and Comcast Ventures. Nebula is also the only startup company that is a platinum member of the OpenStack Foundation. Others include IBM, HP, Rackspace, RedHat and AT&T.

If OpenStack becomes as easy to deploy as Kemp says it can be, a lot of companies — those that can afford to have their own data centers, anyway — are going to have their own clouds. And that is sort of the point.

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Today, a large collection of Web hosting and service companies announced that they will support Railgun, a compression protocol for dynamic Web content. The list includes the content delivery network and Web security provider CloudFlare, cloud providers Amazon Web Services and Rackspace, and thirty of the world’s biggest Web hosting companies.

Railgun is said to make it possible to double the performance of websites served up through Cloudflare’s global network of data centers. The technology was largely developed in the open-source Go programming language launched by Google; it could significantly change the economics of hosting high-volume websites on Amazon Web Services and other cloud platforms because of the bandwidth savings it provides. It has already cut the bandwidth used by 4Chan and Imgur by half. “We've seen a ~50% reduction in backend transfer for our HTML pages (transfer between our servers and CloudFlare's),” said 4Chan’s Chris Poole in an e-mail exchange with Ars. “And pages definitely load a fair bit snappier when Railgun is enabled, since the roundtrip time for CloudFlare to fetch the page is dramatically reduced. We serve over half a billion pages per month (and billions of API hits), so that all adds up fairly quickly.”

Rapid cache updates

Like most CDNs, CloudFlare uses caching of static content at its data centers to help overcome the speed of light. But prepositioning content on a forward server typically hasn’t helped performance much for dynamic webpages and Web traffic such as AJAX requests and mobile app API calls, which have relatively little in the way of what’s considered static content. That has created a problem for Internet services because of the rise in traffic for mobile devices and dynamic websites.

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Not everyone wants to run their applications on the public cloud. Their reasons can vary widely. Some companies don’t want the crown jewels of their intellectual property leaving the confines of their own premises. Some just like having things run on a server they can see and touch.

But there’s no denying the attraction of services like Amazon Web Services or Joyent or Rackspace, where you can spin up and configure a new virtual machine within minutes of figuring out that you need it. So, many companies seek to approximate the experience they would get from a public cloud provider on their own internal infrastructure.

It turns out that a start-up I had never heard of before this week is the most widely deployed platform for running these “private clouds,” and it’s not a bad business. Eucalyptus Systems essentially enables the same functionality on your own servers that you would expect from a cloud provider.

Eucalyptus said today that it has raised a $30 million Series C round of venture capital funding led by Institutional Venture Partners. Steve Harrick, general partner at IVP, will join the Eucalyptus board. Existing investors, including Benchmark Capital, BV Capital and New Enterprise Associates, are also in on the round. The funding brings Eucalyptus’ total capital raised to north of $50 million.

The company has an impressive roster of customers: Sony, Intercontinental Hotels, Raytheon, and the athletic-apparel group Puma. There are also several government customers, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, NASA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Defense.

In March, Eucalyptus signed a deal with Amazon to allow customers of both to migrate their workloads between the private and public environments. The point here is to give companies the flexibility they need to run their computing workloads in a mixed environment, or move them back and forth as needed. They could also operate them in tandem.

Key to this is a provision of the deal with Amazon that gives Eucalyptus access to Amazon’s APIs. What that means is that you can run processes on your own servers that are fully compatible with Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3), or its Elastic Compute cloud, known as EC2. “We’ve removed all the hurdles that might have been in the way of moving workloads,” Eucalyptus CEO Marten Mickos told me. The company has similar deals in place with Wipro Infotech in India and CETC32 in China.

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Clouds

I get press releases every week about some new (or old!) company and their so-called cloud solution. Some folks are clearly abusing the popularity of the “cloud” buzzword, and others are actually doing interesting things with distributed computing, infrastructure- and platform-as-a-service, orchestration, and related technologies. Amazon is the prime mover on IaaS, but OpenStack, CloudStack and Eucalyptus are all making strong plays in that space. VMware’s Cloud Foundry and Red Hat’s OpenShift are pushing open source PaaS, while services like Heroku, Engine Yard and dotCloud (among others) are pushing to be your hosted PaaS solution.

It’s not surprising that so many people are looking to differentiate their cloud solutions, and on the balance I think competition is a good thing that eventually benefits end-users. But as things stand today, it strikes me as exceedingly hard to formulate a comprehensive “cloud strategy” given the plethora of options.

If you care strongly about open source, that helps limit your options. VMware’s Cloud Foundry has been open source for quite some time, and recently celebrated its first birthday. Red Hat’s OpenShift is not yet open source, but work is underway to remedy that. Red Hat, obviously, has a long history of successfully open sourcing their work. Red Hat also recently announced that they would be a platinum member of the newly reorganized OpenStack governing board. VMware, on the other hand, is not a company with which I readily associate open source culture or success; and I don’t see a very robust ecosystem coalescing around Cloud Foundry. Hopefully that situation improves.

And there’s also Canonical, the folks behind the Ubuntu Linux distribution. Canonical has made a real effort to advocate for OpenStack, but their actual contributions to OpenStack don’t seem to tell the same story. Rather than focus on directly contributing to IaaS or PaaS offerings, Canonical is busy making helper products like Metal-as-a-Service and their newly announced “Any Web Service over Me” (with the righteous acronym AWESOME) which aims to provide an API abstraction layer to facilitate running workloads on Amazon’s cloud and on an OpenStack cloud.

The end result of all of this a lot of ambiguity for customers and companies looking to deploy cloud solutions. If you want a private cloud, it doesn’t seem to me that you can make a decision without first reaching a decision as to whether or not you will eventually need to use public cloud resources. If so, your choice of private cloud technology demonstrably hangs on the long-term viability of your intended public cloud target. If you think Amazon is where it’s at for public cloud, then it seems that Eucalyptus is what you build your private cloud on (unless you want to fiddle with even more technology and implement Canonical’s AWESOME). If you think Rackspace is where it’s at, then OpenStack is a more appealing choice for you. But what if you’re wrong about your choice of public cloud provider?

As such, I’m curious to learn what you — the reader — are currently doing. Have you made a technology decision? Did you go all in, or are you leaving room to shift to a different provider if need be? Did you go IaaS or PaaS? Are you a new company, or are you an established organization moving existing workloads to new platforms? Finally, I’m particularly interested to hear from folks in regulated industries — banking, health care, insurance, etc — where your decision as to where to run your applications may be predicated on legal issues.

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TEDxBloomington -- Robert Scoble -- "The 2030 Class Is Arriving"

Robert Scoble co-authored Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers and is a well-known technology blogger/evangelist. He is best known for his blog, Scobleizer, which came to prominence during his tenure as a technical evangelist at Microsoft. He currently works for Rackspace where he is building a community called Building 43. At TEDxBloomington, Scoble talks about how, today, we're about midway between his graduating class from the mid 1980s and that of babies being born today, that of 2030. Reviewing all the current technology that was unavailable during his education, he asks what the future will look like for these new babies, and suggests a series of ideas so we can help our children better prepare. He says "The future belongs to the geeks" and asks "Are we preparing our kids to be the geeks of the future?" scobleizer.com AboutTEDx In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TED has created a program called TEDx. TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. Our event is called TEDxBloomington, where x = independently organized TED event. At our TEDxBloomington event, TEDTalks video and live speakers will combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events, including ours, are self-organized.
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