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Ex-NASA man stuffs OpenStack with Paxos

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One of the NASA brains behind the project that became OpenStack is taking the wraps off a start-up that promises an enterprise-grade cloud using open source.

Josh McKenty today unveiled Piston Cloud Computing, a start-up that fuses Google-class algorithms with enterprise security and compliance policies to deliver what McKenty is calling a "cloud operating system" founded on the basic OpenStack code he helped create.

McKenty will also unveil pentOS: software that installs OpenStack on Hardened Linux From Scratch and has been hardened using a computing algorithm called Paxos. Paxos is favoured by Google in BigTable and used by Ceph, the petabyte-scale distributed network and storage file system for Linux.

Paxos will let OpenStack customers establish a type of master-slave relationship between the servers and storage devices floating their clouds that is called "master election", and which McKenty reckons even his G-men at NASA didn't get the opportunity to use on Nebula.

Nebula was the cloud computing platform released as part of the OpenStack project in July 2010 by NASA and Rackspace; McKenty was technical lead and cloud architect for Nebula.

Now Piston Cloud chief executive and co-founder, McKenty has been joined by Christopher MacGown as co-founder and chief technology officer. MacGown was the former technical lead for Slicehost, bought by Rackspace in 2008. Piston Cloud has 15 employees and $4.5m in series A funding.

According to McKenty, he didn't get to implement master election while working on Nebula because the NASA team had lacked the money.

"Master election is more sophisticated than what we were doing at NASA," McKenty told The Reg. "We were budget constrained, but had more money than what medium enterprises are willing to spend,"

Master-election is helpful in the kinds of networks and datacentres typically running public and private clouds because it helps ensure consistent results are delivered when a set of commodity systems are working together in an elastic, clustered pattern.

Paxos delivers results when the processors or servers stop. It makes a number of trade-offs in its calculations for the components to make sure consistent results are delivered and the application keeps running.

At NASA, McKenty relied on a high-availability node instead of using master-election, with two or three servers built for one task to handle scientific work. It worked because the computing loads and levels of uptime were not as intense as you might get in business, he said.

The kinds of customers McKenty is targeting with Piston Cloud, however, will have bigger and more demanding network loads than those at NASA and won't have the time or knowledge to build dedicated nodes. There's an expectation that customers won't have the kinds of networking experience that others using OpenStack – telcos such as NTT and Korea Telecom – will have in building carrier-grade networks.

McKenty is also adding to a set of common APIs to pentOS which will enable regulators to audit a company's hardware and software – part of a process to ensure they comply with government regulations such as the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, The Federal Information Security Management Act, and Sarbanes–Oxley Act. pentOS implements CloudAudit from the Cloud Security Alliance for common interface and namespace for audit, assertion, assessment, and assurance of public and private clouds.

pentOS has been certified to work on hardware from Arista Networks hardware, with plans to support Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks "later". McKenty claims pentOS will let you install a secure and scalable OpenStack cloud running on HLFS within minutes from a USB. pentOS will released as a developer preview on 3 October with general availability planned for 29 November. Future roadmap plans include new features in charge-back and billing and the improvement of management tools, McKenty said. ®

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