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Startup Piston Readies OpenStack Distribution for Private Clouds

Startup Piston Computing came out of stealth mode this week, introducing a hardened operating system based on the open source OpenStack project for private enterprise clouds.

Piston is led by CEO and co-founder Joshua McKenty, who was technical lead and cloud architect of NASA's Nebula Cloud Computing Platform. NASA and Rackspace co-founded the OpenStack Project. Just last month, former NASA CTO Chris Kemp launched Nebula, which offers a turnkey appliance based on the OpenStack platform. McKenty left NASA last summer to launch Piston with the goal of bringing private clouds like Nebula to enterprises based on OpenStack.

McKenty maintains that much of the attention on OpenStack has been on the potential for service providers to build clouds based on the open source platform, but there has been little emphasis on opportunities for private clouds.

"A lot of the early contributions were around service provider requirements and there seemed to be more and more focus on that side of the story," McKenty said. "We had enterprise customers showing up at every [OpenStack] Design Summit saying, 'Hey what about our needs? We need things to deal with regulatory compliance and security and we know NASA worked on these -- why aren't they in the code base?' We really set out to rectify that. In a lot of ways I'm trying to finish what I started [at NASA]."

Piston is launching pentOS, which stands for Piston Enterprise operating system. The three key attributes of pentOS that Piston is emphasizing centers around its built-in security, interoperability and ease of deployment.

McKenty said pentOS is based on what the company calls a "null-tier" architecture that integrates compute, storage and networking on every node, providing a massively scalable platform.

Thanks to a hardened custom-built Linux distribution, pentOS is secure, McKenty said. Enabling IT to securely deploy pentOS is a feature called Cloud Key, which allows for the automated distribution of the software onto servers and switches via a USB stick. Admins can configure the OS on a laptop and then install it onto the hardware. This provides a critical component of security, McKenty explained, because it minimizes the number of administrators who need credentials for the physical hardware.

McKenty said 50 percent of all attacks come from insiders, and by reducing those who need credentials, the more secure the environment will be. "This is the largest single concern for enterprise IT security," he said. "So the fewer users that have administrative rights on your physical hardware, the better, in my opinion."

Piston claims pentOS includes the first implementation of the Cloud Audit standard, which provides a common interface and namespace, or repository, for cloud providers to automate audit, assertion, assessment and assurance of their environments. McKenty, who is on the Cloud Audit working group, said implementing the standard is important to enterprises who rely on certifications such as HIPAA, PCI, NIST 800-53 and other compliance frameworks.

The pentOS software can be installed on any server hardware and initially on switches supplied by Arista Networks and, shortly, on Hewlett-Packard and Dell Force10 switches, McKentry said, with others to follow.

Founded earlier this year, Piston has $4.5 million in Series A funding from Hummer Winblad and True Ventures.

Piston will issue a developer preview of pentOS next week at the OpenStack Design Summit with general availability scheduled for Nov. 29. The company is not yet revealing pricing but it will be based on per-server licensing and a subscription service for security updates.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on September 28, 2011 at 11:59 AM


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