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Piston Cloud has made the tough private cloud decisions for you

Experts at the company have built big private clouds and know what to put in, what to leave out. One hint: Don't use blade servers

By , Network World
March 14, 2012 04:43 PM ET

Network World - Joshua McKenty, co-founder and chief executive officer of Piston Cloud, what he calls The Enterprise OpenStack Company, was in on the ground floor of OpenStack's creation, working as he was on the Anso Labs team at NASA to build a compute cloud on top of open source platform Eucalyptus. The team eventually gave up on that and wrote Nova, which NASA uses today to power its Nebula Cloud environment, and Nova was ultimately contributed to the OpenStack project, which it formed with Rackspace. McKenty left NASA after Anso was acquired by Rackspace in 2010, and formed Piston Cloud in 2011 with co-founders Gretchen Curtis (also of NASA) and Christopher MacGown of Rackspace. Network World Editor in Chief John Dix recently caught up with McKenty for a deep dive on why OpenStack matters and where Piston Cloud fits in.

Why form Piston Cloud?

When OpenStack launched and vendors started joining in, most of the development focus was on what service providers needed to operate at scale, and not what enterprise needed as far as security, regulatory compliance, ease of use and performance. So we kicked off Piston Cloud with a focus on making an OpenStack distribution specifically geared toward enterprise, and solving some of the really hard security problems. Our first product is Piston Enterprise OS, and it's essentially a very opinionated distribution of OpenStack that addresses the issues around making it easy to build a private cloud environment that meets regulatory requirements.


OpenStack supports six different hypervisors and five network models and three different ways you can configure the storage backend. So there are a vast number of configurations of OpenStack that don't work at all. And there are a number of features that are only available given specific configurations.

Consider live migration, a feature everybody wants. How do I move a running VM from one server to another? It works really well with OpenStack but only if you are using the right hypervisor on the right shared storage backend with the right network configuration and a little bit of sophisticated understanding of your underlying hardware configuration. Look at Red Hat. Linux itself supports a number of different hypervisors. Red Hat supports one. So the distribution is the opinionated version of the software that is fit for a specific use case.

We only support one hypervisor. We only support one network model. We only support one method of storage. And we support that really, really well. So we can guarantee benchmarks on performance given a certain set of hardware because we're only supporting a configuration we know can achieve the optimal performance for a given use case.

These are the same decisions I had to make when I was running a cloud for NASA and the White House. The White House was running a Greenplum database which has enormous requirements for disk I/O. So to achieve those requirements I was forced to make a whole set of decisions about how do we configure the JBOD, how do we configure the RAID controllers and what was the striping width, then we had to test that in hundreds of permutations. Each file system, and test that. Which directory structure, and test that. And the result of all of those tests and benchmarks is a strong set of opinions about the right way to do it for an enterprise cloud.


Why does the world need OpenStack?

We're moving out of the information age and into the data age. The pioneers in the cloud infrastructure space really are the Googles and the Facebooks and the Twitters, only because they had no choice. It became the thing that made their business viable. When you're making a fraction of a penny per query, you need every query to happen as cheaply as possible. And enterprises are starting to make this transition into the data age as well, striving for those kinds of efficiencies. So there's the trend of doing what you have been doing but for less money, but there's also the pressure to be able to do entirely new things. There are things that are possible with massive amounts of compute or storage resources that have never been possible before. There are insights that can be gleaned from data once you have the capability to store and analyze that data. The challenges of doing it without cloud are enormous. Actually there's no way to manage infrastructure at scale without having it ending up looking like cloud. OpenStack is the next step in the evolution of computing.

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