NASA backs off OpenStack development

Updated: NASA, which along with Rackspace(s rax) was one of two original backers of the OpenStack project, will stop developing software for the open-source cloud platform.

Karen Petraska, an executive in NASA’s CIO office, told attendees of the Uptime Symposium on Tuesday that the agency is scaling back development now that the OpenStack has hit the commercialization stage, according to a report in Web Host Industry Review. Rackspace launched its OpenStack public cloud early this month and Hewlett-Packard(s hpq) put its public cloud iteration into beta soon thereafter so there is no shortage of OpenStack cloud suppliers.

According to the report, Petraska said rather than competing with cloud providers, NASA wants to be a “smart consumer” of commercial cloud services. She also said NASA would stop development for the OpenStack-related Nebula infrastructure-as-a-platform project. Petraska could not be reached for comment but other sources close to OpenStack confirmed the report.

Update: A NASA spokesman responding to an earlier request for comment, confirmed the story via email on Saturday. He wrote:

In 2009 when NASA co-founded the OpenStack partnership and began working on OpenStack development, there were few (if any) commercial cloud offerings available. Now, in 2012, there are numerous commercial cloud offerings available of all types, including multiple commercial implementations based on OpenStack.

If NASA’s cloud computing requirements can be met through commercially available services, then it is not necessary for NASA to continue in a development role in cloud computing. NASA continues to have significant interest in using the OpenStack platform, and takes pride in the contributions made to the furthering of that technology area. Further OpenStack development is desirable and would increase the interest of commercial providers which ultimately benefits NASA and other seekers of cloud services.

NASA’s move is not surprising given the context. For one thing, the space agency — which is already navigating a new role as the U.S. discontinued the space shuttle effort — is really not a software development shop. When NASA and Rackspace started down this road two years ago many of the NASA software developers were actually contractors at a company called ANSO Labs, which Rackspace subsequently acquired. Many of the rest of the NASA OpenStack contingent also left the agency to pursue OpenStack-related work at Rackspace or other companies, including Nebula (not the same thing as the Nebula project Petraska mentioned ) or Piston Computing (see disclosure).

OpenStack is viewed by proponents as cloud infrastructure that will let them offer cloud services that can compete with Amazon Web Services(s amzn). Other OpenStack backers include IBM(s ibm), Red Hat(s rhat) and Cisco(s csco).

Disclosure: Piston is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user NASA Goddard Photo and Video