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Ex-IntelCrayAkamai startup rejiggers virtualization

Servers splash in memory pool

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RNA Networks - a startup based in server development hotbed Portland, Oregon - has launched a stack of systems software that provides memory virtualization and pooling for servers that are connected by a network.

While most server virtualization tools aim to carve up a single box into multiple virtual machines with their own virtual processors, memory, and I/O, RNA's memory virtualization platform aggregates capacity across servers. In particular, the company's software aggregates the main memory on server nodes in the network and makes a giant shared pool of virtual memory available to each server node, giving it more room for applications to play.

The approach embodied in RNAmessenger, the first product to be created out of the memory virtualization platform, is a much less tight coupling of main memory than symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) or non-uniform memory access (NUMA) clustering used in server electronics. But if each server in a network gets access to more main memory - even if it exists down a wire on another machine, and applications go faster or can get larger - the effect is the same.

RNA Networks was founded in 2006 and has been operating in stealth mode for the past 18 months. The company's founders come from supercomputer maker Cray, chip maker Intel, host bus adapter maker QLogic, and Web caching provider Akamai, and it has lots of expertise in caching, interconnects, and remote direct access memory (RDMA) technology, according to Clive Cook, chief executive officer at RNA Networks.

Founded by Ranjit Pandit, who lead the database clustering project at SilverStorm Technologies (which was eaten by QLogic) and who worked on the InfiniBand interconnect and the Pentium 4 chip while at Intel, RNA has received $7m in venture capital to date.

According to Cook, memory is the main bottleneck in computing today, and processors get all the press releases and focus. He says that the 16-core processors that are on the horizon will behave, from a performance standpoint, like a dual-core processor from last year on a lot of applications because of memory bottlenecks.

Moreover, he says that the two-year replacement cycle for servers at a lot of companies has more to do with the need to add more main memory than to add processing capacity. And from an economic standpoint, memory represents about 50 per cent of the power on a motherboard for a server these days, and an almost as large piece of the cost of the server too. Using the memory efficiently is therefore as important to IT operations as is using CPUs efficiently.

"For any IT organization, we believe that memory has the greatest impact on performance and scalability," says Cook. "Nobody is directly addressing the problem of getting applications access to a global, shared pool of memory - and doing so on existing infrastructure."

RNAmessenger, RNA Networks' first commercial product, was released in the fourth quarter of last year in a limited beta and today become generally available. Cook says that the company will be creating versions of its memory virtualization and pooling technology for various workloads, since each kind of workload puts different levels of stress on memory and I/O subsystems as well as processors.

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