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Innovation

We saved BT execs from jail, claims Azul Systems

Azul Systems makes corporate Java compute appliances — big boxes of custom multicore processors that run Java virtual machines orders of magnitude faster and at hugely less power than can standard x86 servers. There's a lot of very clever hardware and software design in there, and for the past few years the company has kept quiet about most of it.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor on

Azul Systems makes corporate Java compute appliances — big boxes of custom multicore processors that run Java virtual machines orders of magnitude faster and at hugely less power than can standard x86 servers. There's a lot of very clever hardware and software design in there, and for the past few years the company has kept quiet about most of it.

Until now. In a rather splendid hour-plus Google Tech Talk by Cliff Click of Azul, the company has revealed a lot of history behind its design decisions and what it's found out works really well (and not so well) when you want to make Java run stupidly fast on thousand-core-plus systems. If you're a fan of processor design and real-world cutting edge problems for big corporate tasks, you'll find a lot in there to chew over. I loved it, and it'll give me a great new perspective to take to the Intel Developer Forum later this month.

But it wasn't all garbage collection, stack management and cache configuration. In a throw-away anecdote about Azul's early sales, Click revealed that BT bought some kit in November 2005 under some rather unusual circumstances. Here's the rough transcript from the appropriate bit of the video - you can follow along by skipping to around 41:00...

Then there was BT. A gift from heaven, our gift from the British government.

The British government was telling the monopoly operator in Britain to open up its long distance trunk lines for local telephone providers.

They had to have some sort of automated charging mechanism, a B2B mechanism for doing high volume throughput of purchasing time on long distance trunk lines for their phone company..

They didn't want to do this, they wanted to maintain their monopoly. So they hemmed and hawed and paid lots and lots of lobbyists to lobby the British Government to postpone and stall this effort, and then half-heartedly started working on the software mechanism to make this happen. Athough actually sharing the lines was easy, the billing was hard and they were working out how to do that half-heartedly.

The British government didn't take too kindly to the lobbyists, And it blew up on them and they basically said "You have six months from now and then we start sending the execs of BT to jail". So at that time, BT said "Oh my god! What do we do?" and bought all the Sun gear they could afford to buy of the biggest and best kind, and it wasn't doing the job. So they came to us and said "Oh my god, I don't want to go to jail, so save my butt!". So we did. So that was fun.

And then they came back a second or third time now to buy more gear from us. They like our gear now.

Which is quite a powerful, if unorthodox, sales pitch.

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