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Ex-Sun Scientists Build Cloud Boxes around IBM Servers

Eighteen months or so ago CMEA Capital and Redpoint Venture threw $15 million at the problem

The racks and racks and racks of commodity servers that make the Web 2.0 world and now the cloud possible are really lousy at it.

They're slow, underutilized, don't scale worth a hoot, eat power and space, and now they're multi-core. They need extensive data partitioning, application-level mapping, caching, replication/recovery and load balancing.

Eighteen months or so ago CMEA Capital and Redpoint Venture threw $15 million at the problem of Internet-bound non-application-specific commodity hardware.

They underwrote a Menlo Park start-up called Schooner Information Technology that its founders had initially bootstrapped that thinks it can easily be a billion-dollar or multibillion-dollar company.

With the money, Schooner, which is just breaking cover now, built a couple of data access appliances, the start of a family of solutions meant to cut the Internet data center's spiraling costs, absurd complexity and obscene power consumption.

It also filed 11 patents on its approach, which focuses on key middleware that wasn't designed for parallelism and creates a new user-transparent operating environment that controls DRAM and processor threads.

The widgets promise 8x performance improvements over traditional servers - meaning one Schooner widget can replace eight conventional server - at an eighth the power and real estate requirements and 60% lower TCO - which is obviously why Schooner thinks it's gonna be stinking rich.

One of the two appliances is also 100% compatible with existing MySQL deployments.

Schooner's architecture integrates enterprise-grade flash memory, Intel's newfangled multi-core Nehalem processors, low-latency interconnects with Schooner-optimized versions of the open source MySQL database and the open source Memcached high-performance distributed memory object caching system.

The Memcached appliance accelerates dynamic web applications by alleviating the database load. The MySQL appliance consolidates MySQL servers, addressing scaling and administrative overhead.


Both gadgets, run on CentOS, are fitted out with a half a terabyte of flash, 64GB of DRAM, 10Gb Ethernet and 16-thread Ethernet.

The Memcached device features instantaneous and transparent data persistence, data replication and data recoverability. And with multiple container support, a single appliance can be divided into separate Memcached domains.

The MySQL appliance, which is optimized for OLTP as well as OLAP, is said to process 400,000 transactions a minute where legacy disk storage hits only 40,000.

Schooner is using as its base platform one of the new 2U dual-socket quad-core Nehalem servers that IBM just announced. It also says it's got an OEM lined up to distribute its appliances. It would not confirm that it's IBM. Otherwise the Schooner widgets will be sold direct.

Schooner was started by Dr John Busch and Dr Tom McWilliams. Busch, now Schooner's CEO, used to be director of research into computer system architecture and analysis at Sun focused on chip multiprocessing, advanced multi-tier clusters for Internet deployment and advanced HPC systems.

McWilliams, now the start-up's CTO, founded PathScale, which developed a low-latency, high-bandwidth InfiniBand interconnect, and was acquired by QLogic. Before that interlude, McWilliams was a Distinguished Engineer and Principal Investigator at Sun working on server architecture and advanced CAD tools. He had also run microprocessor development and architecture at SGI when SGI boxes ran on Mips chips and systems architecture at Amdahl having designed the Key Computer superscalar pipelined box that Amdahl acquired.

Busch and McWilliams have collected a team from IBM, HP, Sun, Oracle, VMware and Amazon, who, like themselves, invented a lot of widgetry that the industry is based on and is aces at architecture modeling.

The appliances are currently in beta testing workloads and will be available at the end of May for $45,000 a throw.

Schooner calculates that its MySQL appliance can save roughly $1.6 million in TCO (less 62%) over three years in a typical mid-size 5TB Web 2.0 data center where 13 of the things would replace 102 conventional x86 servers.

In the same 5TB data center, the Memcached appliance is projected to save roughly another $1.6 million (less 52%) in TCO over three years. Twenty Schooner appliances would replace 167 conventional servers.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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