Azul Readies X64-Based Java Virtual Appliance
Published: June 28, 2010
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
It took Azul Systems three years to design and build its first Java acceleration appliance servers and bring them to market in 2005, and over those five years since, the company had had its ups and downs legally and presumably financially as it tried to get server makers to endorse a custom Java application offload engine that basically took food off their plates.
Now, Azul is ditching the hardware-based appliance approach and going more fluid with an virtual Java acceleration appliance that runs atop a server virtualization hypervisor on an X64 server. (Yes, I know that is many layers of virtualization, which is kind of ironic.) Last week, Azul lifted the veil on its forthcoming Zing Platform, which includes a variant of its homegrown Java Virtual Machine and Just-In-Time compiler that was created for its 24-core and 48-core custom Java processors that has been ported to run on 64-bit X64 chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. The Zing Virtual Machine requires the chips to have the VT-d or AMD-V virtualization electronics that the two chip makers have baked into the designs for the past couple of years, since these features are required to help the Zing JVM do the kind of garbage collection that allows a Java heap (memory space allocated for Java apps) to be expanded from the typical 2 GB to 3 GB to something on the order of 96 GB--and to be scaled up and down dynamically as applications require. (JVM heaps are static on other servers.)
Azul is not talking performance yet for its Zing Platform, which is expected to ship sometime in the second half of this year. The Zing Platform includes the Zing Virtual Appliance, which allows the JVM to run inside a guest virtual machine partition on a KVM (from Linux distributors Red Hat, Canonical, or Novell) or ESX Server (from VMware. The Zing Virtual Appliance is what acts as a proxy for the JVM running on a production server, which can link back to those servers through normal network links (Gigabit Ethernet, 10 Gigabit Ethernet, or InfiniBand is fine). By going virtual with Azul Java appliances, customers will be able to fire up another one on their compute pools any time they need more Java-crunching power, which will be done using the Zing Resource Controller. The final bit of the Zing stack is called Zing Vision, which is a graphical Java application profiling tool to help administrators see what is going on with their Java applications as they are running in the Zing VMs.
Pricing has not been set for the Zing Platform yet, but Scott Sellers, Azul's chief executive officer and one of its co-founders, told me the intent was to take the Azul product mainstream--something it could not do with its special-built Compute Appliances and their Vega chips--and that meant having a price for the Zing Platform that was in line with what people pay for Web application servers and hypervisors today.
While Power Systems shops will not be able to run the Azul Zing Platform natively on their machines, they will be able to put it on X64 servers in their shops and give it a spin. It will be interesting to see how performance on the Zing VM stacks up against the 32-bit and 64-bit JVMs IBM has for power boxes, and what kind of bang for the buck each offers. It looks like we'll have to wait a few months to find out.
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