Java Compute Appliances Upgraded by Azul Systems
June 2, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Azul Systems, the maker of hardware appliances that have been specifically designed to run Java virtual machines that are offloaded from general purpose servers and their applications, has announced the third generation of its Java processors, the Vega-3. With this new chip, Azul is adding more cores to the chip and adding other tweaks to make its Compute Appliances even more appealing to IT shops running Java applications who are sick of paying high prices for servers just to run JVMs.
The chip designers at Azul Systems have boosted the number of processor cores on the Vega family of chips from 48 cores with the Vega-2s to 56 cores on the Vega-3s just announced. The original Vega-1 chips announced at the end of 2004 and shipping in the first generation of Compute Appliance Java machines in early 2005 had 24 cores per chip and up to 384 cores in a single SMP image with 256 GB of main memory for the cores to play in. In December 2006, Azul Systems put the Vega-2 chips into two frames, one supporting 96 cores and the other supporting 192 cores, and in June 2007 it put out two boxes with 384 cores or 768 cores each and 1 GB of main memory per core. With the latest machines, the 5U chassis with the 33X0 designation spans from 108 to 216 cores with from 48 GB to 192 GB of memory, while 14U chassis the 73X0 designation spans from 216 to 864 cores and from 96 GB to 768 GB of main memory. The entry chassis has two or four Gigabit Ethernet ports to link back to servers, where the Azul drivers for the operating system make it look like the JVM is running locally on that operating system even though it is not, but rather on the appliance. The larger chassis has four Gigabit Ethernet ports and an optional two 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports for super-fast links back to servers.
The typical Compute Appliance burns between 538 watts in an entry configuration up to 3,319 watts for the largest appliance, according to Azul’s tests. This is a lot less power than would be consumed with a bunch of rack-mounted X64 servers supporting operating systems and JVMs. And there will be a lot more Java performance in the Azul boxes, too.
On IBM’s own Trade6 online stock brokerage benchmark test, a four-core Power 570 with 4.7 GHz Power6 chips running i5/OS was able to handle 2,980 transactions per second in a two-tier setup. This is great because it is nearly twice the performance of a Power5-based iSeries 570 machine using 1.65 GHz Power5 chips from more than three years ago. My assumption is that Trade6 will run more or less the same on AIX and Linux, just like the SPECjbb2005 Java benchmark does. (See Java Performance Is OS Agnostic on Power6 Gear for more on that.)
According to Azul’s own running of the Trade6 test (which used to be known as the WebSphere Performance Benchmark Sample, apparently), the Azul 7280 using the Vega-2 chips and sporting 768 cores was able to handle just under 23,000 transactions per second when attached to a generic server, while the new Azul 7380 server with 864 cores was able to handle just under 42,000 transactions per second. (The graphic Azul shows does not give precise numbers. Sorry.) While Azul is pretty quiet about the clock speeds inside its chips, I think it is safe to say that the clock speed went up significantly with the Vega-3 chip generation. My guess is that the extra cores in the Vega-3 added about 13 percent more oomph per box, core for core, and that the company was able to boost clock speeds by 70 percent, too.
Some of the scalability improvements could be due to the Event-Drive Architecture, a set of tweaks in the Vega-3 design that allow inter-virtual machine communications, which is a necessary part of complex Java applications, to occur inside memory and therefore at memory speeds.
Let’s flip this Trade6 comparison around so it makes sense. Assuming fairly linear scalability of JVMs and cores, a Compute Appliance with around 61 cores will be able to do the work of a Power 570 with four 4.7 GHz Power6 cores. The base Compute Appliance model 3310B with 108 cores and 48 GB of main memory costs $34,995 (that is a big price cut from the $49,995 base price for the Vega-2 machines), which means that 61 cores worth of capacity on that box would be priced at $19,766. I have not been able to get my hands on pricing for the Power 570 yet, but I can assure you that four activated Power6 cores with i 6.1, AIX, or Linux installed and enough memory to support the JVMs is going to cost a heck of a lot more than 20 grand.
If you like to think in terms of the SPECjbb2005 workload, the top-end Azul Compute Appliance 7380, which sells for around $900,000, is rated at 1.4 million operations per second, which is a lot more than the 800,000 operations per second than the Azul 7280 appliance. The 64-core Power 595 is rated at just under 3.5 million operations per second on the SPECjbb2005 test running AIX (and presumably is not much different on i 6.1 or Linux). Basically, two of the Azul boxes match the Java performance of the largest server IBM can build today, which would cost in the neighborhood of $6.7 million without disks or operating systems. Azul Systems can do the big Java workloads for one quarter the price, if not more.