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Startup Throws Down The Gauntlet

Startup Azul Systems claims its new appliance could reduce a data center's number of resident servers drastically.

Azul claims its appliance will provide companies with cost savings by reducing the number of computer servers running Java-based apps, consolidating the work of between 10 to 30 servers to just one. That also makes the data center a heck of a lot cooler. Imagine the hundreds of applications running on hundreds of servers at large enterprise-class institutions. Such organizations could gain tremendous savings with such a device, if it proves to do what it says it can.

And therein lies the rub. So far, the device has not been put through its paces. The product announcement has been made, but the company plans to enter field trials with its new product later this year, and make it generally available in the first half of 2005 (sources say probably closer to June). Azul is doing what every marketing-savvy underdog in this competitive arena does: It's blowing its horn loud and clear, in an effort to create name-recognition and anticipation for its product.

I can't blame Azul for that. With 384 processors and 256 gigabytes of memory, the appliance's reported ability to run applications at the same time is noteworthy, impressive even. It's going head-to-head against Hewlett-Packard, Sun and IBM. No small feat, but it is using a different strategy. Azul refers to its way of doing things as network attached processing. And the company claims Intel's X86 chips are a better fit for programs running C and Cobol code than to the Java applications that now represent up to 15 percent of today's data center jobs. Researcher Gartner underscores the importance of that, noting that the 15 percent figure could become as high as 80 percent by the end of 2008.

History has not been kind to builders of Java processors, however. (Anyone remember Sun's MAJC chip?) Azul's fate is clearly tied to benchmarking data we'll see in the coming months. It's interesting that the startup's name means "blue" in Spanish. Perhaps this Little Blue will give Big Blue some food for thought. Only time will tell.