OpenStack Pioneer Joshua McKenty Set To Leave Piston Cloud For Pivotal

Joshua McKenty is certainly among the most influential people in the OpenStack community.

He played a big role in building the open-source cloud orchestration solution as an engineer at NASA, sits on OpenStack's board of directors and was a founder and CTO of Piston Cloud, a San Francisco startup making major inroads in automating and simplifying OpenStack deployments.

But McKenty, named this year as one of CRN's Top 25 Disruptors, is a bit bored with his creation and all its success. That's why he has decided to leave Piston Cloud at the end of the week and take the job of field CTO with one of the company's same-town partners, Pivotal. As he puts it, he's "movin' on up the stack."

[ Related: Pivotal Tries To Steal Amazon's Thunder With Commercial Cloud Foundry Launch]

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Pivotal, a joint venture of EMC and VMware, is the commercial entity behind Cloud Foundry, an open-source Platform-as-a-Service package that offers a standardized and portable set of features and services to power today's clouds.

McKenty wrote the interface between OpenStack's IaaS layer and the Cloud Foundry platform that sits on top. He told CRN he wouldn't be making the change if he didn't think Cloud Foundry was the future of cloud computing -- a PaaS solution that advances the goal he had been working for at NASA.

"I'm ridiculously certain about Cloud Foundry, just like I was about PaaS, just like I was about OpenStack in its early stages. I can see the early signs that this is the winning formula, but it's not that obvious to everyone else," McKenty told CRN.

Back in the early OpenStack days, he remembers, people said there was no way VMware or Red Hat would ever embrace the technology. Both have, as has much of the industry. Cloud Foundry already has some heavyweight partners in its corner, including IBM and HP, McKenty said.

Pivotal and Piston enjoy a close relationship. They share many customers, and McKenty has been spending time with both of late.

But at this point, he's more excited about the less-accepted technology.

Where OpenStack is now a standard cloud IaaS solution and Piston is an established company, McKenty says there's much work to be done to bring CloudFoundry to the mainstream.

Businesses are starting to use the PaaS solution on top of their OpenStack deployments, and McKenty wants to be in a position where he can credibly speak about where Cloud Foundry is going, what the roadmap is and its commercial potential through Pivotal.

"Everyone sees OpenStack as a solved problem. They know it works, it's reliable, it's been around for years. Now they're saying, 'Yeah, yeah. Let's get working on these things on top.' That’s where there's uncertainty in the ecosystem, and that’s where I can bring clarity for customers. They want to know what's going on with PaaS," McKenty said.

"It puts me back in the center of debate," he added.

While he's leaving Piston, McKenty will remain on the company's board and will still be active with its sales team because of the shared accounts.

"Last year was OpenStack's year. This year is the year OpenStack got boring. Next year is when nobody is going to be talking about it. They're just going to be writing checks," McKenty said.

That's a phase for Piston Cloud in which "it's in Jim's hands to scale up and sell the product. That's not where I add value," he said, referring to Piston Cloud's CEO Jim Morrisroe.

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Morrisroe understands the decision for someone whose real passion is building new technologies, not growing companies.

"We're in a hyper-growth phase. To a software architect and a serial tinkerer like Josh, it's kind of the boring phase," Morrisroe told CRN.

And because Piston Cloud is so focused on developers, the toolkit McKenty will be expanding on at his new job will benefit his old company, Morrisroe said.

"It’s the next frontier. The natural evolution that he can go put his footprint on top of," Morrisroe said of his soon-to-be former CTO.

"Piston's next wave of innovation is going to come around what data centers need that is beyond OpenStack," he added. That means possibly working one day with the Linux container technology being popularized by Docker.

McKenty, speaking as a Cloud Foundry executive, told CRN he views the Docker ecosystem as competition.

The developments represented by OpenStack and Cloud Foundry will create opportunities for the channel, especially when it comes to hardware sales, Morrisroe said.

"Our best partnerships are in that area because we allow that web-scale architecture to go down market a little. Amazon and Google have hundreds of engineers that worry about orchestration and automation. Our software does that and that creates a huge opportunity for that large and mid-market channel," Morrisroe said.

Piston Cloud cofounder Christopher MacGown will take over as CTO, and will also take McKenty's seat on the OpenStack Foundation Board.