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NASA uses Amazon's cloud computing in Mars landing mission

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Although it boasts having "Earth's biggest selection," Amazon.com's reach has stretched to Mars.

Better known for being an e-commerce giant, Amazon has become a major player in cloud computing, with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory using the company's Amazon Web Services to capture and store images and metadata collected from the Mars Exploration Rover and Mars Science Laboratory missions.

With so much large-scale data processing to be done, JPL is leading the way in the adoption of cloud computing in the federal government, said Khawaja Shams, manager for data services at La Canada Flintridge-based JPL.

"At this point, JPL's data centers are filled to capacity, so we're looking for ways to cost effectively expand the computational horsepower that we have at our disposal," he said. "Cloud computing is giving us that opportunity."

Using AWS's cloud to operate the mars.jpl.nasa.gov website, Shams noted, enables JPL to get images, videos and developments to the public quickly, without having to build and operate the infrastructure in-house.

According to Amazon, AWS enabled JPL to construct a scalable Web infrastructure in only two to three weeks instead of months.

"With unrelenting goals to get the data out to the public, NASA/JPL prepared to service hundreds of gigabits/second of traffic for hundreds of thousands of concurrent viewers," Amazon said.

The mission will continue to use AWS to automate the analysis of images from the planet, giving scientists more time to identify potential hazards or areas of particular scientific interest, Amazon said.

Shams noted that JPL has partnered with several providers of cloud computing in the past, including Microsoft, Google and Lockheed, evaluating each option for specific projects and needs. JPL's strategy, he said, "is to find the right cloud for the right job."

AWS began offering cloud computing to businesses in 2006 and today its platform powers hundreds of thousands of businesses in 190 countries. Companies that use AWS include Yelp, Netflix and Pinterest.

Among AWS's benefits, the company says, is low cost (companies pay as they go, with no upfront expenses or long-term commitments); instant elasticity; an open and flexible platform; and security.

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Follow Andrea Chang on Twitter.

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