Stealthy Azul's Java plans unstealthed

Opteron attack

At last check, Azul Systems held tight to its stealth mode status, but a few sources have come forward to expose the company's hardware and software plans.

Azul is a small start-up based in Mountain View, California and run by former Cobalt CEO and Sun Microsystems exec Stephen DeWitt. Up to this point, the company has refused to provide any details about its technology other than hints that it has planned both server and software technology. After failing to push more details out of DeWitt during a recent interview, a couple of sources stepped forward to help El Reg out.

Our sources indicate there is an Opteron and Java play on the horizon at Azul. The start-up is apparently looking to tune up a Java application server that screams on "industry standard" hardware such as servers based on AMD's 64-bit Opteron chip.

At present, it's unclear if the Azul systems will run on Opteron exclusively, but the Java ties have been confirmed without doubt. Azul is looking to fill its hardware with Java accelerators - a move being mimicked by none other than Sun.

But will Sun pump out $2 billion for Azul like it did with Cobalt? Not bloody likely.

Earlier this month, Sun announced its purchase of Kealia. The company, run by Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, also makes Opteron-based gear. And with Bechtolsheim being renowned for server designs, it seems Sun can afford "not to do DeWitt again", as one executive put it.

It's pretty amazing to see the Java/Opteron market both Sun and AMD have helped create. Azul and Kealia are just two out of a number of start-ups said to be looking at speeding up Java code for large companies.

Similar to Cobalt, you can expect that Azul will wrap its hardware with a tight, focused software package. The company is not going after the general purpose server market at all. Instead, it's here to help with specific functions. Not a bad play.

It's hard to say who is ahead in this particular Java war with all of the relevant companies clinging to their stealth status. Azul, however, should have some concerns. It may well have "time-to-market" on its side, but the big boys such as Sun have a serious research and development advantage.

Sun, for example, is talking up its Rock family of multicore processors. The company has hinted that different cores can be tuned to handle specific functions such as processing TCP/IP requests or encryption. And, yes, Java processing is on the roadmap as well.

At this point, it's impossible to determine whether the off-the-shelf approach or the in-house technology "systems company" attack will win out.

Either way, Sun and AMD have conjured up a lot of interest around their products. Can someone point us to a start-up working on .Net / Intel acceleration? ®

*Here's a reminder for the hardware fans out there to take part in our "help Intel, HP and Sun" contest. Thanks to the hundreds of you who have already participated. Keep em coming!

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