Azul Systems to launch Java appliance

A 130-person startup run by the former chief executive officer of Cobalt Networks next year will begin shipping a new multicore server designed to speed up Java processing in the data center.

Azul Systems, a two-year-old company with offices in Mountain View, California, and Bangalore, India, expects to begin selling the server in the first half of 2005, the company said. The company's president and chief executive officer is Stephen DeWitt, who served as vice president and general manager of Sun Microsystems' server appliance division after Sun purchased Cobalt, a Linux systems vendor, in 2000. Dewitt left Sun two years after the Cobalt acquisition.

DeWitt's company has developed a server appliance that users can plug into their existing J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) software without modification in order to increase processing performance, said Shyam Pillalamarri, co-founder and vice president of software engineering at Azul. "We have figured out a way to mount compute power remotely," he said.

Azul wants to emulate the success that Network Appliance Inc. had building storage appliances with the NFS (Network File System) protocol, but Azul's appliance will support the J2EE standard used by application server software from companies such as IBM, BEA Systems and Oracle, Pillalamarri said.

The Azul server appliance eventually could also be used to speed up .Net applications by supporting Microsoft's Common Language Runtime, Pillalamarri said. "We could support that in exactly the same fashion," he said. "That's not something that we're targeting right now, because most of the market is J2EE," he said.

To use Azul's product, customers must install proxy software on their servers, which then offloads J2EE processing on to the Azul server appliance. The Azul server, which has yet to be named, will be based on a custom 24-core processor designed by Azul and manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, Pillalamarri said.

The proxy software can be installed on the Windows, Linux, Solaris, HP-UX, and AIX operating systems, he said.

Azul has not yet determined the exact configuration of the appliance, but it is considering a size as large as 11U (49 cm high) with 16 processors and 256G bytes of memory. Such a system would have 384 processor cores and would be able to run Java applications, split into a large number of discrete tasks called threads, much faster than today's servers, Pillalamarri said.

The appliance will also run management software called the Compute Pool Manager that will let administrators assign guaranteed levels of processor and memory access to specific applications, he said.

One analyst expressed skepticism over the Azul approach.

"It's an interesting concept," said Kevin Krewell, the editor-in-chief of Microprocessor Report. "The issue is the overhead -- in other words, the time it takes to transfer the code over to the box, crunch it and return it."

Though Azul has, to date, been secretive about the specifics of its processor and system designs, Krewell said he expected vendors to have more success through integrating Java acceleration into the servers running the J2EE application than through offloading the work to server appliances.

Another initial problem may be server licensing fees. Oracle, for example, requires a software license for every processor core that runs its software, meaning that Azul's 11U system would require the equivalent of 384 single-processor licenses.

Pillalamarri admitted that current licensing models present an problem. However, pressure from other hardware vendors, many of whom are also considering multicore system designs, and from customers eventually will force software companies to change their licensing policies, he said.

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