We Love This Startup: They Raided NASA To Build Some Super Important Cloud Tech

Piston Cloud ComputingThe Piston Cloud Team

Photo: Piston Cloud

You’ve probably never heard of Piston Cloud Computing. Let’s change that.This startup is building technology that will create the next generation of Internet cloud services. Or to put it another way, this startup aims to do for the Internet what the Internet did for the world.

True, there’s there’s lots of startups working on the cloud. We’re excited about Piston for six reasons:

  • 1. Cofounder Joshua McKenty was one of the lead inventors of a technology called OpenStack. OpenStack has sparked a battle between all the big enterprise players. Some of them—Red Hat, VMware, and Citrix—have developed their own competing tech. OpenStack is like an operating system for a cloud—only bigger. It includes the computers, the storage, and the network. And it’s open source. Rackspace adopted it, created an OpenStack foundation, and built a giant following for OpenStack with 170 companies including AMD, HP, Yahoo, and Cisco.
  • 2. McKenty created OpenStack when he was at NASA. It began life with a cool name: the Nebula Project.
  • Piston CloudJosh McKenty, co-founder3. Because of the potential of the cloud, and OpenStack in particular, Piston has hired a whole bunch of ex-NASA engineers. They are very hard to recruit because “you have to be able to convince them that this is cooler than NASA,” McKenty said. But cloud computing and OpenStack are pretty cool. “Five years from now there will be nothing but cloud. If you could imagine the most powerful things we can do as a society today. Facebook, Google, Twitter—they are powerful because they built their own internal clouds. When every company has the same IT that Google and Facebook has, it changes whole societies,” McKenty explained.
  • 4. Piston Cloud offers a commercial version of OpenStack for enterprises. Most OpenStack is geared for service providers. Soapbox warning: Piston is using a business model called “open core” where some of the software is open source and some of it is proprietary. Users pay for ongoing subscriptions, like Red Hat, not licenses. As a matter of principal, we’re not fond of the open core model. Open source is supposed to let the people who use the software modify it. Stepping off soapbox. BUT we like this company for so many other reasons, we’ll forgive it for going open core.
  • 5. VMware is one of Piston’s biggest competitors, but Piston partnered with it anyway. They will make their two clouds work together and this is ultimately good for customers, since VMware is popular with enterprises.
  • 6. The company dressed its employees up as characters from the game Clue for its corporate picture. “We have fancy Fridays. We all dress up every Friday. We can’t have casual Fridays because we’re so casual already if we did that, we would wear no clothes at all,” McKenty said with a laugh.

Piston raised $5 million so far, including a $4.5 Series A round from Hummer Winblad and True Ventures. While that doesn’t sound like much, the company is only 17 months old and the VCs pounced. After McKenty gave the keynote for the OpenStack conference in Santa Clara in May, “we walked out the conference that day and they handed us a term sheet.” Piston didn’t even have the prototype built yet.

Now that it has won a handful of customers and a dozen more in pilot, when time for a Series B comes around, Piston won’t have trouble finding backers.

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