Azul’s Specialised Chips

WSJ writes about Azul, which has been founded by Stephen DeWitt who earlier headed Cobalt, which was acquired by Sun for $2 billion:

Departing from an industry trend toward standard chips, Azul Systems Inc. says it has packed the equivalent of 24 microprocessors on a single piece of silicon. Many companies are offering or developing such “multicore” chips, including International Business Machines Corp. and Intel Corp., but started out by squeezing two to four processors on each chip.

Azul’s chips are tailored for software programs that are written using a new generation of programming technologies, including Java from Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft Corp.’s .NET. Azul plans to offer special-purpose server systems — in sizes ranging from 96 to 384 processors — that it believes will be much more efficient and powerful than existing machines for running such software.

The target audience for Azul’s new gear is corporate managers who are struggling to estimate how many servers to buy. Where each of those systems is typically assigned to run a single program or two, Azul’s machines, by contrast, are designed to handle changing workloads from many programs.

“We wanted to fundamentally eliminate the issues of capacity planning around computing,” Mr. DeWitt said.

Azul was largely inspired by the evolution of data-storage systems, Mr. DeWitt said. Where companies used to buy storage hardware from their computer vendor — which was mainly designed to work with its products — technology standards emerged in the 1990s that allowed storage systems to hold files of any type that come from nearly any kind of computer.

New programming technologies, such as Java and .NET, use a layer of translation software, called a virtual machine, that allows an application program to run on multiple kinds of computers and operating systems. Though programs based on such technologies are a fraction of the software companies use today, Mr. DeWitt cites estimates that 80% of new programs by 2008 will be based on virtual-machine approaches.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.