Server Startup Claims To Pack Grid Power In Small Box update from September 2004

A Silicon Valley startup is set to debut this week, unveiling a network appliance that the company claims adds computing power without making major changes.

September 27, 2004

3 Min Read
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A Silicon Valley startup founded by a couple of industry veterans is scheduled to make its official debut this week, unveiling a network appliance that the company claims adds computing power to the network without making major changes.

Azul Systems, Mountain View, Calif., plans to enter field trials with its new product later this year, and make it generally available in the first half of 2005.

Because the technology provides muscle to the network as needed, it will compete with on-demand computing platforms from tech heavyweights IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems, a former employer of Azul co-founder Stephen DeWitt.

Azul, which means blue in Spanish, claims its appliance will cut costs by enabling companies to gradually reduce the number of computer servers running Java-based applications in the data center, consolidating the work of between 10 and 20 servers to one. The company, however, does not have any customers or financial data to back up its claims.

Technically, however, the company's upcoming product is interesting, Jonathan Eunice, analyst for researcher Illuminata, said. With 384 processors and 256 gigabytes of memory, the Azul appliance's alleged ability to run applications simultaneously is impressive."The level of parallelism that Azul is targeting is fantastic, even compared to (seasoned chipmakers) IBM and Intel," Eunice said.

Nevertheless, without field-testing and trusted benchmarks, Azul has yet to prove its technology works.

"There's no technology you can trust, until you actually see it work," Eunice said. "It's interesting, but it's in the show-me-I'm-from-Missouri campaign for IT operators."

Azul's appliance plugs into a corporate network like any other device with an Internet protocol address. For an application to tap into the added processing power and memory, it must run on Azul's Java virtual machine, which is based on Sun's HotSpot technology. The company's JVM is contained in a software development kit.

Once the SDK is installed in a server, applications running on its JVM are actually using the appliance's processing power. Data center staff manages the amount of resources dedicated to an application through Azul's software control panel."Everything in the data center stays exactly the same," Shyam Pillalamarri, co-founder and vice president of software engineering, said. "The only thing that changes is the application sees an immense amount of computing power and memory capacity."

The system only supports the Java 2 enterprise platform, which is the core of application infrastructure software sold by IBM, BEA Systems and Sun. There are also open-source versions like Apache Tomcat.

Pillalamarri, former vice president of software engineering for the Internet protocol services business unit at Nortel Networks, said the sales pitch for Azul's technology is its ability to slowly reduce the number of computer servers used by an organization. Rather than buying new servers or upgrading old ones to increase capacity, companies can buy an Azul appliance and get continued use out of their existing infrastructure.

"The old servers will be perfectly capable of running existing applications, and yet have a tremendous capacity boost," Pillalamarri said. "It's not a rip-and-replace (sales) strategy. It targets incremental growth."

Azul plans to eventually support Microsoft Corp.'s .Net Framework, which competes with the Java 2 Enterprise Edition in application development and as a runtime environment. That support, however, probably won't be available until 2006, Pillalamarri said. Azul chose to support the Java platform first, because it has a larger installed base than the newer .Net.Pricing for the Azul appliance and software has not been released.

Investors in Azul include Accel Partners, Austin Ventures, ComVentures, Redpoint Ventures and Worldview Technology Partners.

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