Nebula: Who We Are And How We Came To Be

Nebula CEO Chris C. Kemp and Rackspace President Lew Moorman Announce OpenStack at OSCON 2010

Welcome to the official Nebula blog, where we’ll be chronicling our journey towards the democratization of web-scale computing. We’ll be using this space to introduce you to our team, expand on our vision for cloud computing, explain our approach to the future of computing in general, and highlight some of the incredible applications our yet-to-be-released product will enable.  But before we start looking forward, there’s no better time than the inauguration of this blog to take a look at who Nebula is, how we came to be, and just what we’re trying to accomplish here.

Nebula’s mission is simple: To enable all businesses to easily, securely, and inexpensively build cloud computing infrastructures. In other words, we won’t stop until every business has the same access to efficient web scale computing as the largest internet companies and we’ve ignited a new era of innovation in all enterprises across the globe.  It’s not going to be easy, we know.  But we’ve recruited a team of top-tier talent, from Silicon Valley and Seattle to New York, London and beyond. But how could we shoot for anything less than the stars when our story starts at NASA?

After a few adventures building start-ups, future Nebula co-founder and CEO Chris C. Kemp had the opportunity to join NASA, initially to help build public-private partnerships to better connect the agency’s data with the public. Kemp’s tenure would see a collaboration with Google – to “bring Space Exploration down to Earth” by providing Moon and Mars imagery for inclusion in Google Earth - and Microsoft Research  - in a project called “World Wide Telescope,” an evolution of Jim Gray’s TerraServer project. This was a prelude to one of the most demanding IT challenges NASA had yet to undertake: streaming live satellite imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter directly into Google Earth and World Wide Telescope. To make this a reality, NASA would need a computing infrastructure that could deliver more performance and capacity at a lower cost than anything that it had built before.  

Kemp’s vision was to provide an Amazon Web Services-style “self-service” computing infrastructure, delivered from inexpensive commodity servers housed in shipping containers, directly connected to the massive MAE-West internet exchange, operated by Kemp and powered by inexpensive excess electricity not being used by the decommissioned wind tunnels at NASA Ames Research Center.  

That’s when Kemp, then CIO of Ames Research Center, and a small team inside NASA that would later become Anso Labs built a small cloud system using Eucalyptus, a new private cloud infrastructure product that had just been spun out of UCSB. Chris dubbed his initiative the NASA Nebula Project.

Inspired by NASA's leadership in cloud computing, Vivek Kundra, the then-CIO for the Federal Government, reached out to Kemp to see if he would help the White House launch the cloud computing strategy for the Federal Government at NASA Ames Research Center, and if the NASA Nebula Project could power, a key part of the Obama administration’s new open government initiative. This raised the profile of the project considerably, and meant that NASA's cloud would need to be more reliable and secure than  it had been up to that point.

The NASA team was finding Eucalyptus very difficult to operate reliably, and also had difficulty getting the company to accept code contributions to the open source version of their product. The team, which by this point included future Nebula co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Devin Carlen, decided they would need to replace Eucalyptus with something far simpler, more reliable, scalable and secure.  They got to work immediately on the project, and placed it on Github to get feedback from other developers.  The open source project was given the name “Nova.”

Not long after, Kemp would get a call that would change the face of the computing industry. A developer from Rackspace Hosting had found the source code for Nova on GitHub, and brought it to the attention of his boss Jim Curry. Curry called Kemp to see if Nova could be combined with another project Rackspace was planning on open sourcing to form the foundation of a new open source initiative called OpenStack.

Kemp and Curry both shared a vision for a new open source cloud platform built entirely by an open community, designed to be a highly scalable and secure foundation for both public and private cloud infrastructures alike. Both knew that neither of their organizations could build or sustain the development of such a platform on their own, so the only way to ensure the success of their projects was to combine forces and maximize the open source gravity of OpenStack.

In July 2010, Kemp and Rackspace President Lew Moorman announced OpenStack on stage at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) in Portland, Oregon. Kemp seized the opportunity to rally a larger community of open source developers to "help NASA explore the solar system" ... by contributing code to OpenStack.

By this point, Kemp’s vision for using the cloud to reinvent computing for the federal government had earned him the notice of his superiors at NASA, and he found himself promoted to CTO for IT, overseeing the entire agency’s infrastructure roadmap (among other duties). And with OpenStack taking off, and contributors joining in flocks, Kemp found that NASA’s own internal cloud platform was maturing far more quickly than his team could have ever managed on their own.  Rackspace Hosting had fully committed to the project, and decided to acquire Anso Labs in order to add the expertise that built the OpenStack platform to its talent pool.

At around the same time in late 2010, Kemp was contacted by Steve O’Hara, an entrepreneur interested in starting a new company. O’Hara reached out to Kemp and introduced him to Andy Bechtolsheim, the angel investor famous for first founding Sun Microsystems in 1982 and later making the first major investment in Google in 1998. Bechtolsheim had been following OpenStack, and believed the project had the potential to be as disruptive to computing in the next decade as Linux was in the last.

O’Hara also introduced Kemp to premier Silicon Valley venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Highland Capital Partners.  O’Hara, Kemp and Carlen – accompanied by Bechtolsheim as advisor – met with famed investor John Doerr, who expressed an interest in funding the three entrepreneurs. It was an entrepreneurial dream come true, and an opportunity to continue the work Kemp and Carlen started with OpenStack. Kemp and Carlen opted to seize the opportunity, and resigned from their respective positions at NASA and Rackspace.

Several weeks later the trio formed stealth company “Fourth Paradigm Development”, a tribute to the influential ideas of Microsoft Researcher Dr. Jim Gray.  In May, 2011 Nebula closed a Series-A investment led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers and Highland Capital Partners with participation from Google's first three investors Andy Bechtolsheim, Ram Shriram, and David Cheriton and several other high profile investors.

In July of 2011, Fourth Paradigm emerged from stealth as Nebula, Inc., officially breaking the silence around its intent to democratize large-scale computing during a presentation at OSCON 2011 – one year after Rackspace Hosting and NASA had revealed OpenStack itself, and on the same stage.

Nebula proceeded to add serial entrepreneur and former Dell and Isilon executive Dave Withers as SVP of Field Operations, and Netscape co-founder Jon Mittelhauser as VP of Engineering.  More principal engineers and architects from Google, Amazon, VMware, NASA, Disney, Cisco, NetApp, and other companies would come join Nebula's team.   

Jump forward another year, and in the summer of 2012, eight key members of the original Anso Labs and NASA team reunited at Nebula. The team that created the very core of OpenStack was finally reunited under Nebula’s banner.

Today, Nebula is hiring some of the smartest engineers in the world inspired by our mission to ignite a new era of global innovation by enabling all businesses to easily, inexpensively, and securely operate cloud computing infrastructures.  We’ve just closed a $25M Series-B investment led by Comcast Ventures and Highland Capital, and added Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors to our list of investors, and we’re working with some of the worlds most innovative companies as we ready our product for general availability.

Keep watching this blog for updates as we work hard to build a product that we hope will democratize web-scale computing!

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