Hot Cloud Startup Nimbula Launches Public Beta

Cloud computing startup Nimbula announced Monday morning that its long-awaited internal-cloud software, Nimbula Director, is available as a public beta release. Nimbula has received boatloads of attention since emerging from stealth mode in late June, primarily because of who’s behind it: Amazon EC2 (s amzn) pioneers Chris Pinkham and Willem van Biljon, as well as board member Diane Greene, the founder and former CEO of VMware (s vmw). The reputation of its team, along with a strong demand for private clouds, has helped Nimbula raise $20.75 million in funding already, but now Nimbula’s product has to prove itself.

I spoke with VP of Marketing Reza Malekzadeh (himself a former marketing director at VMware), who says Nimbula aims to differentiate itself in four key areas: scale, automation, permissions and networking. Actually, the first two areas are rather connected to one another, as Nimbula looks to ease the problems related to scalability by plug-and-play addition of new nodes to the resource pool. Furthermore, Nimbula’s auto-healing capability draws upon lessons learned at Amazon about operating at large scale: Machines will fail, so the system needs to automatically detect those failures and fill in the void.

In terms of permissions, Malekzadeh talks about fine-grained policies to control which users, objects and applications can perform what tasks. This enables control beyond just multitenancy, going into what can be done within each distinct resource set. Nimbula is trying to solve traditional network scalability issues by incorporating scaling priorities at the application level.

Another interesting difference between Nimbula and most other internal-cloud products is that Nimbula installs on bare metal and lays down its own KVM hypervisor layer. Most cloud software, on the other hand, installs atop the existing virtualization layer. This approach would seem to eliminate any unnecessary overhead caused by a hypervisor not optimized to work with the cloud software. Malekzadeh says Nimbula wants to support VMware, but there are issues because VMware licensing policies prohibit Nimbula from packaging it as part of the product. The answer might be installing atop VMware – just like everybody else.

He says reaction from private beta customers has been positive thus far, in part because “they’ve had their fingers burned by other solutions.” Beta customers included about a dozen companies spanning the financial services, ISV, health care, service provider and systems integrator industries. Nimbula’s stance is that although it’s behind some other private cloud providers in terms of having a product on the market, it believes it’s ahead of the curve in terms of how its product actually works. When Nimbula Director hits general availability – planned for the first half of 2011 – it also will offer a fully functional free version limited only in terms of scale.

No longer, however, will Nimbula’s founders’ reputations and pedigrees be able to carry the company. As Malekzadeh acknowledges, there’s competition everywhere in this space, from startups to VMware and Microsoft (s msft). And, as Eucalyptus proved, product limitations will eventually be brought into the public light. We’ve been waiting for an internal-cloud provider to separate itself from the pack the way Amazon Web Services did in the public space, so now it’s time to see if Pinkham and van Biljon can strike gold twice.

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