ScaleMP – Interesting Twist On Systems Scalability And Virtualization

I just spent some time talking to ScaleMP, an interesting niche player that provides a server virtualization solution. What is interesting about ScaleMP is that rather than splitting a single physical server into multiple VMs, they are the only successful offering (to the best of my knowledge) that allows I&O groups to scale up a collection of smaller servers to work as a larger SMP.

Others have tried and failed to deliver this kind of solution, but ScaleMP seems to have actually succeeded, with a claimed 200 customers and expectations of somewhere between 250 and 300 next year.

Their vSMP product comes in two flavors, one that allows a cluster of machines to look like a single system for purposes of management and maintenance while still running as independent cluster nodes, and one that glues the member systems together to appear as a single monolithic SMP.

Does it work? I haven’t been able to verify their claims with actual customers, but they have been selling for about five years, claim over 200 accounts, with a couple of dozen publicly referenced. All in all, probably too elaborate a front to maintain if there was really nothing there. The background of the principals and the technical details they were willing to share convinced me that they have a deep understanding of the low-level memory management, prefectching, and caching that would be needed to make a collection of systems function effectively as a single system image. Their smaller scale benchmarks displayed good scalability in the range of 4 – 8 systems, well short of their theoretical limits.

My quick take is that the software works, and bears investigation if you have an application that:

  1. Either is certified to run with ScaleMP (not many), or one where that you control the code.
  2. You understand the memory reference patterns of the application, and
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What Is The Definition Of An "Application"?

What is the definition of an "application"? We are "applications development and delivery professionals" - surely we have this question nailed, don't we? The question keeps coming up in different contexts, and since there are many potential opinions, a blog is the perfect place to spur debate. Here are some (simplistic) questions to generate debate:

  • Is a Web page an application?
    • If not, how many Web pages does it take until I consider it an application - 10, 100, 1,000?
  • Does size matter? (Please behave yourselves with this one.)
    • Is the size of the code base a pertinent factor?
  • What about SharePoint sites, Access databases, and spreadsheets? Are they applications?
  • Where do COTS and packaged apps fit?
  • Does the technology I use affect the definition?
    • If I use a scripting language for a quick-and-dirty task, is that an application? 
  • Does SOA erode the definition of an application?
    • Do we cease thinking about applications as entities and think about them more as containers that hold collections of SOA services?
  • How does open source affect the definition?
  • How does my role affect my perception of an application?
    • Do developers and users use similar definitions?

I have my opinions - in fact I just finished a draft piece of research on it that will be published in January, but what are your opinions?