OpenStack Founder's Startup, Piston, Eyes Private Cloud Security

With $4.5 million in funding and part of the NASA Nebula cloud brain trust, Piston jumps into the private cloud software market.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

July 21, 2011

3 Min Read

Piston Cloud Computing has recently emerged with $4.5 million in funding to compete in the crowded space supplying software in the crowded space of private cloud computing.

The San Francisco startup includes part of the NASA Nebula cloud brain trust and for several months it has had beta software available that's being tested by early adopters. The 13-person firm is located in an old Victorian house near Golden Gate Park. It will release a set of products in the near future, said Joshua McKenty, CEO and co-founder. For the time being, it aims to be a small, tight knit group of developers.

McKenty is the behind-the-scenes architect of Nebula and one of the founders of the OpenStack open source code project that sprang out of it. OpenStack, with contributions from infrastructure-as-a-service supplier Rackspace as well as NASA, seeks to become a standard cloud environment shared by many cloud users and suppliers.

McKenty said Piston will adhere to the OpenStack open source core but will make additions in the areas of enterprise performance and security. Security in particular has been a hole that needed to be filled. "Most of what we did at NASA around security couldn't be released," he noted, because NASA and the federal government don't want their security measures in the public domain.

"Some aspects of security are being addressed (in OpenStack) and others are not. Security is a logical place to build a start-up, open source business," he said in an interview at the offices where the company has been located since May 1.

Piston products will be built in Python, like the components of OpenStack. Piston will try to walk a line that balances being a major contributor to OpenStack, while reserving some code for Piston's products as value-adds.

McKenty sits on the OpenStack's Project Policy Board governing body, and said Piston's work will supplement other work underway in the project. He estimated that Piston is the number three contributor of OpenStack code today. He'd like to see it move up to number one, although to do so it will have to surpass contributions by OpenStack members Rackspace and Citrix Systems, the number one and two contributors.

In the area of performance, McKenty pointed out that, while the cloud can be the right setting to handle big data, it's awkward to add security measures to big data systems after they're already in place. Likewise, it's hard to guarantee performance when many security measures are placed in front of big data systems.

"You have to take the right architectural approach to keep them both performing well," he said.

Another supplier of private cloud components based on OpenStack is, which adds its own extensions in Java to form CloudStack. Eucalyptus Systems was early in the field and bases its private cloud offerings on compatibility with Amazon's EC2 cloud APIs. Nimbula, with Amazon's former VP of engineering Chris Pinkham, is trying to produce a generic version of Amazon's services without being tied to Amazon's APIs or virtual machine format.

Before working for NASA on Nebula, McKenty was a team leader for the development of the Netscape 8 browser and a senior engineer on the Flock search engine. His co-founder is Chris MacGowan, CTO of Piston and former technical lead at Slicehost, a virtual server hosting firm acquired by Rackspace in 2008. Rackspace also acquired Anso Labs, the firm where McKendry worked in the later stages of Nebula development. McKenty moved from NASA into the privately held Anso to simplify purchasing procedures for building Nebula.

Piston is being financed by Hummer Winblad, Divergent Ventures, and True Ventures. McKenty said the firm added four of its 12 employees this past Monday.

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About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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