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With Velocity, There's Winners and Losers

Last week, I pointed to Microsoft's unexpected launch of Project Velocity, the code-name for a distributed in-memory data caching platform, which it launched at Tech-Ed Developers in Orlando.

Many jaws dropped when Microsoft unveiled Velocity -- not just as a project but with enough code to allow developers to test.

William Bain, CEO of ScaleOut Software, told me this week he was blindsided about Velocity, only getting wind of it days before its announcement. Particularly troubling, said Bain, is that ScaleOut is a Microsoft partner that is on the fourth release of its distributed cache server, dubbed ScaleOut StateServer (SOSS), used by a number of large organizations -- including Home Shopping Network and Reuters -- for high-performance applications.

"This was a surprise to us," Bain said. "We are a Microsoft partner focused on high-performance computing, particularly in the financial services market and we've had a positive and successful relationship with them over the past year."

Because Microsoft has hedged on its product plans, many are speculating that the software giant might offer Velocity free of charge or, at the very least, put the squeeze on other players like ScaleOut.

"The steps they take over the next year will determine whether it has an effect on the market," Bain said. "If Microsoft should elect to make distributed caching available as its own standalone SKU free of charge, that does undermine the market for products of this type, coming from vendors that have worked for years to develop and evangelize this market and that has a negative effect on investment for new Microsoft-related technologies."

ScaleOut's pain, of course, could mean customers' gain. "A free entry into this arena from a major vendor is sure to make the other vendors think about lowering their prices," wrote Marc Adler, technical head of complex event processing at a major investment bank on Wall Street, on his blog. "In these economic times, financial companies will certainly welcome the chance to embrace this technology without having to spend a lot of money."

There are still many unknowns about Velocity, Adler points out. Among his questions are what product group will commercialize it, how will it be tied to LINQ and SQL Server, will it have support for third-party (even Java-based) message busses, and will it link to non .NET environments and database servers other than SQL Server.

As for whether or not it will commoditize in-memory data caching, ScaleOut's Bain believes time is on his side. Based on the current CTP, Velocity only provides a subset of the functionality in SOSS, Bain said. For example, SOSS already supports high availability of stored data, offers a self-configuring and -healing architecture, offers quorum-based updating of stored objects, supports push notification of events within the cache, offers asynchronous replication between data centers for disaster recovery and parallel query of cached objects using tags.

If Microsoft ends up giving away Velocity or bundling it with other tools, Bain said the onus on suppliers of distributed caching technology will be to add value in other ways.

That said, he also knows if you can't beat them, join them. For example, he didn't rule out supporting Velocity and the APIs that come with it.

"I think the Velocity API may become a defacto standard as the lowest common denominator API that everybody will support," he said. "In addition I think vendors like ourselves and our competitors will add value; I know that we will add value beyond those APIs."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/19/2008

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