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Server start-up taps IBM-Intel tech, eyes Web 2.0

A start-up founded by former Sun Microsystems computer scientists is tapping IBM and Intel hardware to accelerate the enormous server workloads of burgeoning Web 2.0 businesses.

A start-up founded by former Sun Microsystems computer scientists is tapping IBM and Intel hardware to accelerate the enormous server workloads of burgeoning Web 2.0 businesses.

Menlo Park, Calif.-based Schooner Information Technology announced Monday that it is readying a server appliance based on Intel's newest Nehalem processors and its solid-state drives. The first products are due by the end of May with volume shipments in the third quarter of 2009.

Hewlett-Packard and Fusion-io said recently that they are working on analogous technology and had achieved extremely high performance using Fusion-io's solid-state drives running on HP servers.

Schooner Information Technology's President and CEO John R. Busch was formerly research director of computer system architecture and analysis at Sun laboratories. Chairman and CTO Tom McWilliams was a lead engineer at Sun, working on server architecture and advanced CAD tools. Prior to that, McWilliams was a director in the MIPS division of Silicon Graphics. Both men were involved in moving Sun to multicore server architectures, according to Busch.

The company is funded by CMEA Capital and Redpoint Ventures. The current total investment is $15 million.

In a phone interview Monday, CEO Busch explained that the company has set out to fuse standalone high-performance server technologies into a faster organic whole. "Computer companies are pretty much selling boxes while others are selling networking. They're basically just selling component technologies," he said. "If you just speed up the processor or speed up the interconnect or add in flash drives, it will have a small effect."

"The observation I had when we started the company was that we really need to make a shift and we really need to put the middleware application and (our) new operating environment together with these technologies--tightly coupled with parallel flash memory and with Intel multicore processors. As opposed to loosely coupled, in order to bring their real inherent benefits through," Busch said.

Busch continued. "We pulled together a team of scientists and engineers and did the workload characterization and the modeling and the engineering and the optimization and we've been able to accomplish an eight times improvement in throughput performance," he said.

Michael Pray, vice president of sales and marketing, talked about specific challenges facing its customer base. "I would use the example of a social networker. When a person signs into their home page, there's a ton a data options that are returned back on those pages. The pain is around having to scale to meet the challenge. The more and more users you get, the more and more successful you are. You're kind of a victim of your own success with regards to the amount of data you need to serve up and continue the user response times," he said.

The company's core innovations, such as "extremely fast parallel thread switching between the (processor) cores," are, in essence, technologies to accelerate processing on the server computer.

The company uses IBM System x3650 M2 servers outfitted with Intel Nehalem processors and 512GB arrays of Intel solid-state drives. The products will be co-branded with IBM and will use IBM after-market support.

"We're big fans of (Intel) Nehalem multicore processors as well as their flash drives. We're in close cooperation both with their systems group with the processor as well as their NAND (flash) group," Pray said.