The Project\u2002::\u2002Develop the federal government\u2019s first open-source cloud-computing platform to provision high-performance computing, storage and network services for NASA\u2019s research community and enable scientists and engineers to share large, complex data sets with partners and the public.\n \nThe Business Case\u2002::\u2002Traditionally, it took several months and hundreds of man-hours to procure, configure and maintain new IT infrastructure for NASA scientists and engineers. Computing power dedicated to a single project or research area was underused, and energy costs were skyrocketing. IT leaders saw cloud computing as a potential solution to these technology challenges.\n \nFirst Steps\u2002::\u2002NASA\u2019s cloud services project, nicknamed Nebula, was hatched two years ago. It transformed shipping containers into modular data centers, using virtualization to support up to 16 petabytes of data each and capable of halving energy use. For more than a year, Nebula was something \u201cwe were working on in the background,\u201d explains Ames Research Center CIO James Williams. For example, the Marshall Space Flight Center, another NASA agency, tested Nebula for predictive weather modeling, a project that would normally take a month to set up. Instead, Williams says, it was up and running in four days.\n \n Nebula rocketed to the fore last fall, when federal CIO Vivek Kundra asked Ames to host USASpending.gov, a searchable database of federal funding. NASA launched an agencywide cloud computing initiative in April, and in July, Nebula\u2019s core software was chosen for OpenStack, an open-source initiative aimed at driving cloud-computing standards. OpenStack has hundreds of developers working on the code for any given project. \u201cIt could save taxpayers millions of dollars,\u201d says Williams.\n \n Now users throughout NASA can unilaterally provision and manage IT resources for low-security applications on demand. Next year, IT will launch Nebula\u2019s platform as a service: a shared development framework, code repository and set of Web services that developers can use to deploy secure, policy-compliant software-as-a-service applications.\n \n NASA has spent more than $10 million on the project, but it will be another year before the return is clear. \u201cWe want to get to a day where for every dollar you invest in this, you save six,\u201d says Adrian Gardner, CIO with Goddard Space Flight Center, a NASA division that provides staff and infrastructure for Nebula. \u201cWe\u2019re not looking to shift everything to the cloud. It\u2019s just another tool.\u201d\n \nWhat to Watch out For\u2002::\u2002Training technologists isn\u2019t enough. \u201cWe\u2019re known for doing things most people would characterize as being impossible. So culturally, the cloud is a fit,\u201d Gardner says. But convincing researchers accustomed to working with several computers under their desks takes time. IT runs workshops to demonstrate the new processes for provisioning systems and promotes Nebula to individual scientists.\n \n NASA had no open-source policy (though one is now in the works), which delayed the agency joining \u00adOpenStack and slowed Nebula\u2019s progress. Security is another concern. Before moving sensitive data to Nebula, NASA is getting advice from other agencies that handle such information. (For more about cloud security concerns, see \u201cWhy CIOs are Resetting Information Security Priorities.\u201d)\n \nStephanie Overby is a freelance writer based in Massachusetts.