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December 5, 2006

Azul could become a ray of light for Sun

Azul sprang into public view a year ago with the release of its Vega 1 Compute Appliances, introducing the concept of network-attached processing, designed to support business-critical Java applications. Despite its benefits to Java, Azul's offering represents a threat to Sun, meaning the company would do well to snap up Azul before one of its rivals does.

By CBR Staff Writer

The proposition that Azul’s devices offer is to transparently offload applications from the Java Application Server to the Compute Appliance, where multiple processor cores and large memories are at the disposal of the application, all managed by the Azul Virtual Machine with no change to the original applications.

The Vega 1 chips had 24 cores with 96GB RAM, whereas the new Vega 2 has doubled the core density to 48. Upcoming Vega 2 Compute Appliances will feature multi-way chip systems having a total of 768 core processors supported by 768GB RAM; tripling the best Vega 1 performance.

Azul has run the SPECjbb2005 benchmark against a 16-way Vega 2 device and it beat the current best score held by a Fujitsu 128-chip SPARC64 system. Advanced Java garbage collection management allows the high RAM space to be used to optimum advantage; the Azul Virtual Machine is rated by Azul as being 88% efficient compared with 12% to 50% for traditional servers.

The performance advantage of a compute device is realized when the concurrent thread count starts to rise. Compared with a benchmark Intel system, the average transactions per second (TPS) continues to increase to 5000 TPS, only leveling off at around 150 concurrent threads, whereas the benchmark Intel device is already saturated at eight threads at around 500 TPS. That is an order-of-magnitude performance increase. The average response for the Vega 2 system stays below 40ms at up to 200 threads, whereas the Intel machine crosses 40ms at 20 threads.

An important endorsement of Compute Appliances is the recently announced deal with BT, which has allowed the telecoms giant to reduce data center costs for its gateway infrastructure, helping to meet a massive growth in business with cost-effective solutions. Savings in power consumption and cooling requirements are also a factor in the savings.

As for the ongoing dispute with Sun over intellectual property, Azul said that the situation is calmer now, and although there are no announcements at present on the court case, it is understood that the issues are being resolved. The change in leadership at Sun may also be having a positive side effect on this dispute.

The irony, of course, is that Azul Compute Appliances are a huge boost to the Java community, particularly at the enterprise end with high TPS needs. Azul has developed its devices to work under Microsoft .NET, but with no customer demand it sees no reason to launch such devices…yet.

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Despite the benefit to Java, from a hardware perspective, Azul network-attached processing (NAP) is a threat to Sun’s revenue from its high-end servers. Considering the fit, and given the cross-fertilization of Sun staff into Azul (part of Sun’s grievance), the company may well be advised to snap up Azul before another competitor does. The change in leadership at Sun may well make this more likely.

Source: OpinionWire by Butler Group (

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