A recent IT Week story referenced Azul Systems and its approach to appliances that accelerate Java performance, noting that the startup was enjoying some success through its use of in-house processor designs that packs tens of cores on each chip. The net result of this is mightily impressive speed as well as very low power consumption and very small-format boxes.
However, as noted in the piece, the approach left Java pioneer Sun Microsystems underwhelmed. “In general, custom hardware tends not to win in the long term,” said Mark Reinhold, Sun’s chief engineer for Java SE. Sun also suggested that specialist vendors, such as Azul, would always struggle to compete with larger manufacturers because they lack the R&D resources to catch up.
Leaving aside the question of whether Sun’s view was coloured by the fact that it is embroiled in a legal dispute with Azul, the piece drew an interesting response from Azul, citing an analyst named Cal Braunstein of Robert Frances Group.
“Sun's comments on custom hardware not winning in the long term do not map to the facts,” Braunstein wrote. “Specialised hardware solutions have been the norm in the IT industry for decades. One only needs to look at supercomputers, cell and graphics processors, routers and switches, and storage directors. In fact, the Azul architecture parallels the supercomputer architecture. Both are processors designed to do specific types of processing while leaving the basic processing (such as input/output processing) to an attached general purpose processor.
“The second comment about there being so many resources at firms such as AMD, Intel, and Sun that others cannot successfully compete against them is inconsistent with reality. There are a number of other specialty chip manufacturers that are quite successful, including IBM, Nvidia, and TI. In fact, Sun uses Nvidia's graphic processors in their computers. Plus, if this statement were true, Linux would not exist or survive because of the number of resources at HP, IBM, Microsoft, and Sun. I know Sun does not believe Linux is going away.”
It seems there’s very little Sun and Azul can agree on at the moment but that’s probably just an indicator of how competitive the performance-per-watt game has become in today’s server rooms.
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