The virtualization of the data center has taken another step forward with the first network attached processing (NAP) products from Azul Systems, which calls these ‘Compute Appliances’. With these products, Azul will not only be delivering on its promise of NAP but also contributing to an important historical moment for IT infrastructure.
The technology is based on multi-chip processing, in this case a single Vega chip housing 24 independent 64-bit microprocessor cores, and the Compute Appliances are available in multiples of 4, 8, and 16 Vegas, the lattermost offering 384 cores. The architecture is based on standard Symmetric Multiprocessing.
The key to Azul’s concept of NAP is that a Compute Appliance runs a virtual environment, currently for the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), but Microsoft’s .NET Common Runtime Language, and SAP’s NetWeaver are in the pipeline. This means that the Compute Appliance can be simply plugged in to the network with applications redirected by a Virtual Machine proxy to the Compute Appliance JVM. The advantage for the application of having access to 384 microprocessors is essentially limitless throughput; benchmarks available from Azul show that as the client load increases on a JVM the Azul system scales almost perfectly linearly.
The worst-case scenario in Compute Appliance usage involves heavy transaction traffic with multiple-tiers, such as databases, and even in such cases there are significant gains to be made, whereas in cases of intensive Java code processing, the greatest performance gains are to be expected.
However, the Compute Appliance is not designed for high performance computing (HPC), as the virtual machine environment network separation introduces wire latencies, so compared to an optimized supercomputer offering best benchmarks for a single application, the Compute Appliance will not be a challenge, although one can envisage clusters of Compute Appliances built into useful ‘supercomputers’ for heavy load duties, and exploiting asymmetrical multiprocessing.
According to Azul’s CEO, Stephen DeWitt, Azul undercuts Dell by 50% in the server farm market. The company shipped its first product three months ago and is now promoting itself in Europe. As an innovative start-up it has stolen a march on rival established chip players, who will no doubt wish to emulate Azul and not allow the market to be swiped out from beneath them.
Although Intel’s research project on a similar product came to nought, but both Intel and AMD are expected to enter this market at some point. Azul itself also looks to be an inviting takeover prospect. For now it has established links with BEA and IBM Global Services, and its products will certainly have an impact on the Java server farm market.
Azul has delivered on its promise of NAP, and it is shipping products, not merely hype, as is too often the case. As awareness of NAP increases, application developers will find new ways to write applications that exploit the high throughput offered by Compute Appliances. The cost benefits will drive the market for Azul, with better utilization of data center capacity. We will look back at this period and see the birth of NAP as a significant milestone for IT infrastructure.
Source: OpinionWire by Butler Group (www.butlergroup.com)