Thinking About Software Machines
During the past two weeks, I received two client Inquiries about specialized Java hardware and Larry Ellison announced v2 of Oracle's "database machine."
These two seemingly disconnected events made me ask: Is specialized hardware for software inevitable? Last year, we saw TIBCO announce a messaging appliance too. And IBM has a robust business in XML and security appliances. Will growing volumes of data, messages, and logical operations force us to adopt specialized hardware, abandoning the unbundled software model IBM introduced back when real Hippies roamed the Earth?
The client Inquiries were from firms having to invest heavily in infrastructure and still struggling to keep up with their Java processing loads. Both had seen Azul Systems, found its touted performance numbers compelling, but wondered: "Where are the other competitors?" Answer: I don't see any others doing what Azul does.
Why? My answer: Too few customers buy this way — particularly from a startup with a proprietary software machine. IBM, HP, Intel, and the other big vendors don't see enough of a market yet to take the plunge.
With its database machine, Oracle claims impressive advances in I/O and query speeds, and disk compression. But the company says it has 20 customers for this product. For a new model and a new product, that's not bad. But I think it helps answer my question: Only the tippy top of the enterprise food chain really needs software machines for general purpose products like databases, Java application servers, and message processing. The majority of customers can use other software techniques to keep growing without being locked into proprietary software machines. Virtualization, distributed caching, in-memory databases, optimized garbage collection, and alternative database structures come to mind.
This means most customers won't use these specialized devices — ever. Rather, only customers with supersized workloads will. Unless I'm underestimating the number of customers with outsized workloads. What do you think? Thanks in advance for taking the time to join the conversation.