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Big-iron brains powers Schooner appliance power

Putting a ding in server size

The server can have Gigabit Ethernet or 10 Gigabit Ethernet links. That is the only configuration. The appliance runs a standard Linux distribution, and it is unmodified. The company did not say which one.

There's nothing too special about this hardware or using Linux - anyone can do this. Where Schooner has done its R&D is in creating a completely black box - and not open sourced - clone of Memcached that has been reworked to take advantage of the multiple cores and instruction threads in modern processors like the Xeon 5500s and it is also keenly away of memory, both flash and main, inside the box.

Just slapping the open source Memcached on a Nehalem EP box is not going to yield the performance benefits that companies expect, Busch said. "The industry has gotten the pieces optimized locally," he explained in reference to server makers using better chips, more main memory, and now integrating flash. "But the hardware and software is not being optimized to run together."

Schooner's own Memcached variant supports the same APIs as the open-source Memcached, so applications won't see any difference. And to steer clear of open source licensing issues with Memcached or Linux, Schooner's Data Fabric API, which is an operating environment that takes over the cores and their threads plus main and flash memory access and scheduling, as well as the Memcached program runs in a userspace inside Linux. There are no mods to the Linux kernel.

Based on its own benchmark tests, the Schooner Memcached appliance is able to make use of all 16 threads in the box, and can handle 300,000 Memcached requests per second, compared to just under 50,000 requests per second with the open source version of Memcached on the same Nehalem iron. And if you compare the Schooner appliance to a Memcached setup running on a prior generation of Intel Xeon iron, the difference is more like a factor of 8X in performance.

Even at $45,000 a pop for the Schooner Memcached appliance, the savings over plain vanilla x64 servers can be dramatic, according to the company. As an example, Schooner has calculated that it would take 167 x64 servers to deal with a mid-sized Web 2.0 data center with 5TB of data it needs to cache. It would take about $1m to buy the iron, and a little more than $2m more to keep those x64 servers maintained over the course of three years, including power and cooling.

Installing 20 Schooner Memcached appliances will cost about $900,000, but maintaining, powering, and cooling these boxes will only cost an additional $554,000 over three years, more than cutting down the cost of supporting the same Memcached workload.

The second appliance that Schooner have launched has the same physical hardware, but uses a highly optimized version of the InnoDB 1.0.3 transactional storage engine for the MySQL database, which is controlled by Sun. The appliance also includes a copy of the MySQL 5.1 Enterprise Edition database, which has been OEMed from Sun. By switching to flash-based SSDs for database storage, the Schooner MySQL appliance has demonstrated that it can do about eight times the online transaction processing throughout on the TPC-C test compared to last year's pre-Nehalem Xeon DP server.

In a similar Web 2.0 data center with that same 5TB database, Schooner figures it would take 102 database servers running MySQL to so the job, and over three years, it would cost $2.55m to acquire, power, cool, and maintain those boxes - a little less than half of this is capital expenses to buy the iron.

But using its MySQL appliance, which will also sell for $45,000 a pop, Schooner thinks this data center will be able to get by with 13 appliances at a cost of $585,000 and then spend another $371,770 to maintain, power, and cool them over three years. This chops out nearly $1.6m from the IT budget to support the same workload. Presuming, of course, the hypothetical Web 2.0 company is buying all new gear.

Still, by Schooner's numbers, the operating expense savings from using the Memcached and MySQL appliances and maintaining them covers a lot of (but not all) of the cost of using these appliances. In tightly constrained data centers where power is an issue, this will be enough to open the door to negotiations.

The two appliances will be available in May, and were co-developed with IBM's Systems and Technology Group. It is not yet clear if Big Blue will be a Schooner reseller, but it seems likely. ®

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