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February 5, 2009

Hell freezes over as Tibco launches hardware

Says it reached limits of software approach

By Jason Stamper

Saying that it can wring no more scalability from its former software-only approach to messaging, Tibco Software has made its first foray into hardware, with the launch of the Messaging Appliance P-7500.

The firm’s Tom Laffey, executive vice president, products and technology, said that, “This is just the first in a series of hardware products that Tibco plans to offer to its customers.”

Previously, customers buying Tibco’s technology to solve their intensive messaging challenges would buy the software from Tibco and then install it on general purpose servers.

But the P-7500 is a server that comes with Tibco’s Rendezvous messaging software preinstalled and preconfigured. According to Tibco, existing Rendezvous customers can plug the appliance into their networks, and with minimal work and certainly no change to their applications, it will handle a workload that previously needed 10 general purpose servers.

The firm is also claiming that it will deliver a 50% reduction in latency and 10x increase in the predictability of data flows and performance.


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In an interesting twist, Tibco is saying that customers can’t buy the appliances – they must lease them from Tibco. Tibco says companies will find this attractive as it means they can procure the kit using operational expenditure (OpEx) rather than hitting capital expenditure (CapEx).

Tibco is quick to differentiate the P-7500 from a server running Rendezvous bundled into an appliance. While it does feature a computer, this is used primarily for diagnostics and configuration – no messages ever touch the ‘server’. Instead messages stay in the Network Acceleration Blade, which more closely resembles a router.

So while the appliance features dual 3GHz Intel Xeon 64-bit processors and a Linux operating system, the server has little to do with messaging throughput – that’s all down to the Network Acceleration Blade.

The appliance, which makes use of field-programmable gate array (FPGA) and application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) technologies to squeeze maximum power from Rendezvous, is offered in three different network configurations: four 1Gb Ethernet connections, eight 1Gb Ethernet connections, or two 10Gb Ethernet connections. 

InfiniBand is not supported – Tibco said most customers it talked to believe the emergent 10 Gigabit Ethernet will give them the bandwidth they need with better cost of ownership than InfiniBand.

There is said to be full redundancy of all moving parts including fans (of which there are six), disk drives (it ships with two) and power supplies (it uses two but ships with three). Nevertheless Tibco is recommending that companies lease two P-7500s and run one as a hot spare. If one fails, the other will kick in and take over the workload automatically.

Asked about mean time between failure (MTBF) for the appliances, Tibco’s chief engineer Denny Page told CBR, “We are publishing that as five-nines reliability [99.999%] when running in a fault-tolerant pair. That would equate to five minutes of downtime a year.”


Green credentials


Page also said the P-7500 meets a green agenda, because it can handle the same load as 10 general purpose servers yet uses 375 Watts of power, standard for a 4U server unit.

Whereas Tibco’s software running on general purpose servers had already achieved messaging throughput in the order of several hundred thousand messages per second, the company said the P-7500 is capable of up to 10 million messages a second, depending on the size, or ‘payload’, of each message.

The company said messaging latency is a big issue amongst many of its customers, especially in financial services firms.

In the US, companies hire space in collocation facilities right next to the New York Stock Exchange, for example, in an attempt to keep messaging as ‘real-time’ as possible. One customer that was in the beta programme has already installed a P-7500 in that collocation facility, Tibco said.

Rourke McNamara, head of product marketing at Tibco, said that the ‘arms race’ amongst the rival vendors to reduce messaging latency has been driven by the knowledge that a 1 millisecond improvement in messaging latency could be worth up to $100m for a major brokerage firm.

Meanwhile despite the state of the economy, message volumes have actually been on the increase for most financial firms. By way of an example, McNamara noted that the Options Price Reporting Authority (OPRA) data feed that provides last sale information and current options quotations from a committee of participant exchanges, has seen messaging volumes rise from 200,000 per second in January 2006 to 1.2 million messages per second today.

“Even in a period of turmoil in financial markets, the one constant is a steady increase in trading volume,” added Tibco’s Laffey. “As a result, data-intensive industries — financial services, telecommunications, manufacturing, government and major online commerce companies — need lower latency and increased throughput at lower costs.”

Asked whether some financial services firms may have issues with leasing their hardware rather than buying it because of the question of the safe and compliant disposal of that asset at the end of the lease term, Tibco’s Page told CBR, “The messages never touch the server part of the appliance – they only touch the Network Acceleration Blade. But the server can be wiped with any Linux safe delete utility, or Tibco professional services will certainly point customers in the right direction if they have questions in that regard.”

There are also, of course, implications in a former software-only company turning its hand to hardware in terms of the stock market. Software companies often command higher valuations than hardware companies, and Tibco is refusing to give any guidance whatsoever as to what proportion of its total revenue these appliances could contribute to its fiscal 2009.

“That’s definitely a thought that we considered and something that we discussed,” said McNamara, “but we had feedback from customers that this is what they need for their business – lower latency, more throughput, and lower TCO [total cost of ownership]. Vivek [Ranadive, Tibco’s chairman and CEO] has a maniacal customer focus and if they need it, we had to offer it.”

Tibco said it will not publicly disclose pricing details for the appliance.


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