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Can Parallel Method Invocation Compete With Free Velocity?

A few weeks ago, Microsoft disclosed it will be issuing a fourth Community Technology Preview (CTP) of its in-memory data caching software, code-named Project Velocity in mid-September.

As reported, that means it will be released to manufacturing later than Microsoft had hoped. But that is no doubt good news to third party providers of in-memory data caching software, such as Giga Spaces, Gemstone Systems, Oracle and ScaleOut Software, and quite a few others who will ultimately find themselves competing with Microsoft’s free offering.

I recently caught up with William Bain, ScaleOut’s CEO, who was quite appalled when Microsoft unexpectedly announced the effort a year ago.  In my more recent meeting with him, I asked how he intends to compete with free. "It’s going to be a strong competitive threat to us," he admitted. "However I think we have some strong differentiators that position us well to co-exist with Velocity."

Bain’s company has introduced a new feature to its ScaleOut StateServer Grid Computing Edition (SOSS/GCE) platform called parallel method invocation, or PMI.  Bain explained that PMI lets applications reach peak performance by allowing the distributed cache to run on the local systems where the data is hosted, thereby reducing the need for the data to move. Secondly it creates a map-reduce framework designed to sharply minimize development time while utilizing the capacity of a compute grid.

This should ease the development of a data parallel program such as a typical financial services application, where creating an app for data analysis to be easily implemented, Bain said. That’s because "the developer can focus on the application code and not on having to write code to either abstract parallelism or to connect to the cache explicitly," Bain explained. The other benefit is high performance.

ScaleOut, along with Lab49, a technology consulting firm specializing in financial services industry solutions, pared up to create a case study on the performance benefits of PMI in a financial services app, which can be downloaded here.

But at a price of $1,600 per server, it begs the question: can companies like ScaleOut compete with free?  Bain points out that capabilities such as PMI and support for both .NET and Java -- in fact the company demonstrated this feature at the recent JavaOne conference -- are key differentiators.

"Velocity will be competing with nothing," said Marc Jacobs, a director at Lab49. "It will be the choice between having no distributed cache and one that’s free. I don’t see it competing with any of the commercial products simply because they operate in a different region of support, functionality and customer confidence, particularly in financial services. I think the likelihood of Velocity being adopted for any of these large scale distributed cache scenarios is just unlikely."

That may be true for a segment of large scale applications but Microsoft has a history of doing pretty well when it adds freebies to the mix. Just look at SQL Server Integration Services and SharePoint, to name just two. It will be interesting to see of companies like ScaleOut can carve a large enough niche or whether they are merely a precursor to capabilities Microsoft and its larger rivals will offer in subsequent releases.

Bain has been down that road. An earlier company he founded, Valance Research, was acquired by Microsoft more than a decade ago. That company’s IP load balancing software that is now the network load balancing feature embedded in Windows Server.

Are you testing Velocity? How do you see it impacting the development of your data driven apps? Drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/25/2009

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