Sun saves Clustra from enemy clutches
Low key acquisition
Clustra Systems seems to have run up against an IT market that is not exactly keen on trying out new technologies in this uncertain economic environment.
Back in June 2001, Clustra Systems, a provider of what it calls a zero-downtime SQL database known as Clustra Database, secured $22m in Series B venture funding. Sun Microsystems was the first major IT vendor to join a group of venture capitalists in backing the company. Vantage Point Venture Partners and TeleSystems-Argo Global Capital made a combined $10m Series A equity investment in Clustra Systems in 1999. In late April, these two investors plus two new venture partners, Clarity Capital and Mustang Ventures in late 2000, put in another $19m in funding.
Clustra was founded in Boston in 1997 based on research and development performed by Telenor AB, the Norwegian telecoms company. Oystein Torbjornsen is the chief architect of the Clustra database and was the director of research at the company. He and a dozen former employees of Telenor founded Clustra, which then moved to Morristown, New Jersey - near AT&T's headquarters - and then subsequently moved to Silicon Valley (Oakland, to be specific) Gary Ebersole, a former top software executive from Informix Software, Angara Database Systems, and Sun, was the CEO of Clustra and was probably instrumental in bringing in Sun as a venture partner last year and as a buyer a few weeks ago.
Sun seems to have been smart enough to realize that the technologies behind the Clustra database can be woven into its iPlanet software stack and its SunONE initiative that is attempting to rival Microsoft Corp's .NET and IBM Corp's mish-mash of WenSphere and Java technologies. The Clustra intellectual property was too valuable to fall into enemy hands - and in some cases, this includes Oracle and Sybase, too - and Sun, on the inside about whatever woes were affecting Clustra Systems, moved quickly and snapped up the company before someone else did. Sun and Clustra have not discussed the financial details of the acquisition.
Clustra Systems announced Version 4.1 of its Clustra Database in November 2001, and this represented the first time that the database was aimed at more general database jobs rather than the special needs of the telecoms market.
Unfortunately, the telecoms and service provider market had imploded by then, and every other sector of the economy was battening down the hatches and locking up the money chests just as Clustra Systems was ready to deliver a product that was arguably what many of them needed to perform reliable e-business.
The Clustra Database was developed to support large numbers of concurrent, simple queries like those supported by telecoms exchanges without crashing and with more throughput and faster response times than a normal relational database. The high availability is accomplished through parallel clustering rather than mirroring an entire database across two distinct servers or partitions on a single server.
The trick with the Clustra Database is that it is organized so each node in a configuration acts as a primary database engine doing production work; these nodes also act as a secondary backup for another node in the parallel cluster. The overhead of using each node as both a primary and a secondary is built in, so there is no additional overhead placed on a primary node when and if a backup for another primary node in the cluster fails or has a software crash.
The high availability that Clustra delivers is not for each node, which is obviously no more reliable than any other single server, but rather for the entire Clustra network.
The company has said that the Clustra Database has self-repairing algorithms that allow the database to have a mean time between failure of 50 years and a recovery time in the event of a crash of about 90 minutes.
Clustra is intended to be run on a cluster of four server nodes with two backup nodes; if each node is a symmetric multiprocessor, the performance of the database increases because of the parallel database technologies that the Clustra Database employs. The database was designed to be able to process 1,000 transactions per second with an average response time of under 15 milliseconds and have less than two minutes of downtime a year and near-linear scalability.
Sun will find some way to make use of this, even if it isn't a database vendor, you can be sure. It would not be surprising to see Sun license the technologies to Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, and the few other database vendors so it can can make their products more reliable - but it will want to tie those improvements
specifically to the iPlanet software stack, if possible. The Clustra Database runs on Solaris, Linux, FreeBSD, and Windows servers.
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