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NASA JPL bets big on cloud computing

Agency talks up plans for the cloud
Thu Nov 29 2012, 02:03
NASA's Mars rover

LAS VEGAS: NASA'S JET PROPULSION LABORATORY (JPL) is looking to cloud computing to power the next generation of space projects.

Speaking at the 2012 Re:Invent conference, NASA IT CTO Tom Soderstrom and software engineer Khawaja Shams said that JPL staff are using cloud systems for, among other things, the Mars Curiosity rover mission.

The rover, which has already made a number of historical discoveries on the red planet, uses several computing and storage services from Amazon to communicate with the rover and process data gathered in the mission.

The pair said that the rover project is part of a larger effort by JPL staff to move its operations to cloud computing services. The effort was born in 2008 when administrators, weary of budget shortfalls, ordered IT staff not to buy any more physical servers.

As the agency began to adopt cloud services, developers began introducing low-risk systems such as public-facing web applications into the cloud. Eventually, JPL found that cloud systems were able to handle mission critical and secure applications.

"Very soon we realised you can do secure computing in the cloud," Shams said. "We realised we could get a strategic advantage and mitigate the risks."

In the coming years, JPL plans to expand its cloud efforts even further. The company outlined a number of projects, including storing images through cloud platforms and offering applications to scientists as virtualised instances rather than requiring the download and compilation of source code.

Ultimately, JPL believes that it can deliver its IT infrastructure to scientists and laboratory facilities on demand. Soderstrom likened the migration to the spread of electricity, allowing firms to simply plug in to computing platforms.

"[Thomas Edison] allowed us to think of electricity as a consumable commodity," Soderstrom explained.

"Cloud computing to us is that same model applied to compute, network and storage needs." µ


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