September 27, 2011 – NASA may be through with shuttles for the time being, but their tech alumni are ready for another launch.

Start-up Piston Cloud Computing is officially releasing pentOS, a private cloud operating system built on OpenStack. Founded earlier this year with $4.5 million in funding from Hummer Winblad and True Ventures, the cloud operating system provider is led by former NASA chief technical architect Josh McKenty and former Rackspace executive Christopher MacGowan.

Set for general availability in November, pentOS is a commercial cloud system built on OpenStack, the infrastructure as a service cloud project from Rackspace and NASA. McKenty says that OpenStack’s common framework for private and public clouds provided an “exciting and attractive” background in terms of usability and security, though developers so far had primarily focused on the server side.

“We’re really plowing forward to finish what we started with OpenStack itself, but also fulfilling the commercial requirements rather than just the open source core alone,” McKenty says. “We needed someone to stand up and take responsibility for addressing the needs of the enterprise private cloud side.”

pentOS features data and server availability through commodity hardware, and automated scalability. In what McKenty described as the vendor’s “null-tier architecture,” the OS enables connections to storage and networking with every node. The private cloud system features CloudKey, which calls for two-factor capable physical authentication, and implementation of CloudAudit, a standard that sets a common interface, regulatory mapping and assessment of the cloud environment. Of course, even as a commercial release, pentOS remains interoperable with OpenStack, as McKenty says he and others remain connected to that project as “open source guys.”

Jeff Kaplan, managing director at THINKstrategies, says the release shows appeal for mid-to-large scale organizations that want to build quick, economical private clouds. And Rachael Chalmers, research director for The 451 Group, said that Piston is “clear-headed” about OpenStack’s acceptance and open source background.

“I used to joke that everyone needs there to be an OpenStack, but no one particularly wants to have to build it. Well, Piston Cloud proved me wrong,” Chalmers says.

In July, Chris Kemp, former NASA CTO, who was McKenty’s boss prior to their separate work in the private sector, announced with his new cloud vendor the launch of Nebula, a commercial hardware appliance for virtual storage.