In a stunning announcement, Joshua McKenty, co-creator of OpenStack and co-founder and CTO of Piston Cloud Computing (Piston), revealed this week that he has accepted a position at Pivotal as field CTO. McKenty transitions to Pivotal after a three year stint at commercial OpenStack vendor Piston, during which time he was central to raising approximately $20M in capital, growing the team by a factor of 15 and increasing sales by a multiplier of 1000. McKenty helped build Piston from a “fledgling startup” into “a real business with an incredible group of customers, an established leadership team, and a mature product” as noted in a blog post reflecting on his tenure at Piston. More importantly, however, McKenty served as an OpenStack evangelist that demonstrated the commercial viability of OpenStack as a prominent alternative to proprietary Infrastructure as a Service technologies such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. As a former NASA luminary, McKenty’s position as an OpenStack board member and his outspoken elaboration of OpenStack’s potential gifted OpenStack with technical credibility that ultimately led to its adoption by companies such as IBM, Red Hat, HP, Ericsson and a slew of technology behemoths that now collectively contribute financial and engineering-related resources to the OpenStack project.
OpenStack’s success aside and notwithstanding, however, McKenty noted that his burning technical interest involves simplifying application development and deployment as follows:
This was the central issue that I was recruited into NASA to address in 2008—how to improve both security and efficiency by unifying NASA’s application development into a common platform. Originally called NASA.net, this project quickly ran into a then-common roadblock—the lack of agile and programmatic infrastructure to support this platform.
The past 5 years have been a detour to address this lack of agile infrastructure—a detour that could now be easily termed the “OpenStack” years.
Here, McKenty remarks on how his recruitment to NASA to work on unifying application development was derailed by the lack of adequate technical infrastructure, which ultimately led to the development and refinement of OpenStack over a five year period. McKenty commented further on the complexity of contemporary software development by noting:
Fast forward 30 years, and I now have two daughters, both of whom are trying to “learn to code”. And while the intervening decades have made computers vastly more capable, they have also made them more complex. What was once possible with a single machine (the one sitting in your living room or kitchen, no less), now requires the use of “the cloud”, and an arcane set of tasks with a poorly defined mental model called…deployment.
At Pivotal, McKenty will have precisely this opportunity to work on simplifying application development in conjunction with the Cloud Foundry project. Previously, he had worked with Pivotal on the integration of Cloud Foundry with OpenStack and confessed that much of his interest in OpenStack dissipated subsequent to the success of the integration of the two platforms. McKenty’s transition from Piston to Pivotal signals the end of an era in the history of OpenStack. On one hand, the OpenStack collaboration has already reached a tipping point such that it will continue with the momentum and innovation commensurate to its backing by the world’s most successful technology companies. Nevertheless, the OpenStack world will miss McKenty’s technical acumen, intellectual passion for open source technologies and unique ability to contextualize the place of one technology within the larger technology landscape. McKenty’s move to Pivotal aptly illustrates the story of a man following his passion and intellectual interests as enabled by a truly unique opportunity to join one of the most innovative and powerful technology companies in the world. While McKenty will be missed by the OpenStack community at large, his presence at Cloud Foundry promises to usher in a new era for application development marked by increased simplicity and streamlined processes that render it easier for everyone to write, or at least understand how to write code.