NASA Shuttle launch

NASA sails to the cloud with AWS, open source, migration

NASA has migrated 110 websites and applications to the cloud in a cost-cutting technology overhaul that also introduced the Drupal content management system and other open source components to the agency’s enterprise tool chest.

The space-agency’s cloudward push included the flagship NASA.gov website and the internal NASA Engineering Network, which holds 3 million engineering documents. The migrated applications and websites, which previously resided in a commercial data center, now run on Amazon Web Services (AWS), an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) or AWS GovCloud.

Roopangi Kadakia, web services executive with NASA’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, said public-facing apps or websites such as NASA.gov and NASA’s Digital Learning Network run only on AWS. Websites or applications that have access control or are for internal use go to the Amazon VPC or into GovCloud.

NASA completed the migration under NASA’s Web Enterprise Service Technologies prime (WESTPrime) blanket purchase agreement, for which it used InfoZen Inc., a cloud broker and integrator based in Rockville, Md. InfoZen recently announced the completion of the cloud migration.

As part of its move to the cloud, NASA adopted open source software such as Drupal and Ubuntu, replacing a pre-migration environment that used proprietary solutions, including a content management system (CMS) that was out of support. The open source shift has reduced NASA’s hosting expense, Kadakia said.

Overall, the new cloud-based environment generated immediate cost savings of 40 percent, she said. Going forward, the cloud platform is expected to reduce the agency’s monthly operations and maintenance costs by around 25 percent. “Hosting costs are so much lower –  definitely a big win,” Kadakia said.

“The key is it is costing them a whole lot less than what it used to,” said Raj Ananthanpillai, chief executive and president of InfoZen.

Migration factors

Kadakia said a data center-oriented contract was in place at the time she took her current NASA post two and a half year ago. The agency’s budget was also being cut substantially, especially in mission support areas such as IT.  When it was time to recompete that contract, NASA began looking at other approaches, with cost reduction in mind.

The maturing cloud emerged as “a great solution set,” Kadakia said, noting that NASA didn’t have to focus on data center and associated capital expenses.

The Office of Management and Budget’s cloud-first policy, along with other guidance from the administration, gave a push to the cloud migration strategy. In addition, NASA’s Open Government initiative, which covers open source as well as internal and external websites, dovetailed with NASA’s cloud destination. The migration “helped us meet a lot of those goals that NASA put in place,” Kadakia said.

In preparing for the changeover, the CIO’s office talked to about 250 people around NASA to develop a governance process and define requirements for the new web environment. In December 2012, NASA tapped InfoZen for the WESTPrime BPA.

At the time, NASA described the contract as providing an infrastructure-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service and software-as-a-service solution, “for internal and external websites and web applications.”

Drupal CMS was one of the SaaS elements. Kadakia said her office conducted a “bake off,” evaluating various CMS systems that people around NASA were using. Drupal was selected on the basis of ease of use and functionality, she said.

NASA.gov involves hundreds of thousands of pages, Kadakia explained, noting that each NASA center employs multiple content managers. “We have 200 to 300 content managers at any time,” she said. “We wanted to make the ease of use a big priority.” Another factor: NASA wanted to make sure the CMS selected had a big enough open source community using it in government and other sectors.  

The migration of the 110 NASA websites and applications took 22 weeks, according to Ananthanpillai from InfoZen. The company applied its experience from previous migration efforts, including more complex projects in the national security space.

While this particular phase of the migration phase has been completed, NASA may move other websites and apps to the cloud. There are plenty of candidates: the agency can point to more than 1,500 websites, just on the public-facing side. And the task of analyzing additional web properties for possible cloud transition is already underway.

About the Author

John Moore is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, N.Y.

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