Schooner Information Technology, a startup that has been pushing its Web caching and MySQL acceleration appliances since it came out of stealth mode in April 2009, has ditched the hardware. The IBM System x hardware, to be specific.
The Membrain appliance, as it is now called, is based on a modified version of the open source Memcached web caching program. It's been tweaked to scale across threads and cores of a modern x64 server and make use of flash memory as well, so offers considerable performance benefits over the open source Memcached.
The MySQL appliance takes an optimized version of the InnoDB database engine controlled by Oracle and gooses it with threads and cache to offer more scalability than the standard MySQL 5.1 Enterprise Edition.
Last April, the Memcached appliance was tweaked so it could be used as a NoSQL key-value persistent store for applications.
These two appliances - Membrain and MySQL- allow Web applications to run on fewer systems and deliver the same scalability (around a factor of 10 to 20 contraction at some customers), and hence Schooner was charging $45,000 per server for either appliance. Despite the benefits, that price struck many potential customers as a little high, as did having to buy another box to use the software.
So starting with the Schooner Appliance for MySQL 3.0 and the Membrain 3.0 caching appliance, Schooner is no longer building hardware appliances but instead allowing its software to run on a variety of machines from IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell.
Up until now, Schooner was co-engineering a hardware appliance with IBM based on the System x3650 M2 servers, complete with big gobs of main and flash memory to boost performance, and IBM was even selling the boxes and supporting them through its Global Services behemoth. It is reasonable to conjecture that the deal with IBM to use Big Blue's hardware was made so Schooner could get help to sell and support its appliances on a global basis. And because flash was not a standard part in servers four years ago when Schooner was working on its designs, it needed to control the hardware to limit the amount of certification and tuning it would have to do.
Flash forward to 2011
"Flash does pretty much just work when you plug it in, so the requirement for a hardware appliance is gone," Jerry Rudisin, Schooner's chief executive officer, told El Reg. Rudisin added that some customers prefer HP or Dell iron, and still others wanted different configurations from what Schooner was offering, and still others didn't want to buy a new server at all but use something they already had. (If you are getting server compression by using the appliance, it does make sense to take a few servers offline and use these boxes to run the Schooner software, after all.) And, it is reasonable to assume $45,000 was also a problem, so now that is gone, too.
The 3.0 releases of the MySQL and Membrain appliances are being delivered as software appliances, packaged up into RPMs that can be deployed on Linux-based servers that have flash drives installed. (The software is not packaged up as a virtual machine container since performance is key for these workloads and a server virtualization hypervisor just eats resources.) Schooner is supporting Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.4 and 5.5 with its appliances as well as their CentOS clones, and supports flash drives from Fusion-io, LSI, Unigen, Intel, OCZ, and Pliant in standard x64 boxes from IBM, Dell, and HP.
You can use flash drives that link into the server through SAS or SATA ports or through PCI-Express peripheral slots. You can run it on whatever box you have laying around if you plug in some flash, so long as it is using a 64-bit processor from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices.
But here's the real kicker to moving to a software-only delivery model. A license to the Membrain Web caching appliance is now only $8,500 per server per year, and the MySQL appliance only costs $9,500 per server per year.
While Schooner is letting its Membrain/NoSQL and MySQL tools run on popular servers and distributing them as software appliances, the one thing Schooner is not doing - and will never do - is distribute them as open source programs. If Schooner gave all the tweaks it has done with Memcached and MySQL away, it might be a hero of the Web, but it wouldn't have much of a revenue stream, either. ®