Reason 3: Appliances deliver huge performance gains

This is part 3 in a 10 part series: 10 reasons for the growth in middleware appliances. The series summarizes what we’ve learned from our clients about what they value in appliances and why they selected Solace.

So far I’ve talked about saving money and making life easier. The third leg in the stool of commonly recognized advantages of appliances is higher performance. There is no one definition for “kick-ass performance” – it has to be defined in context of some set of rules or objectives. Sprinter Usain Bolt is the fastest man in history over 100 and 200 meters, but at 400 meters the edge goes to Michael Johnston. And neither could hold a candle to Haile Gebrselassie in a marathon. Of course, any of these three elite athletes would be schooled playing one-on-one hoops against LeBron James.

General purpose-ness vs. performance

General purpose computers are remarkably flexible—you can use a high-end server (with the right OS and software) to run a powerful database, perform high-end 3-D modeling or execute real-time trade order management. But that flexibility is precisely why software on servers can’t compete with purpose-built hardware when it comes to performing a specific task. Software designers are constrained by what servers and operating systems offer them while appliances can design hardware, firmware and software to all aid in solving a particular problem.

Using another analogy, BMWs are high performance cars in comparison to the majority of commuter cars they share the road with, but it’s not a BMW that holds the land speed record, it’s the ThrustSSC (see picture at right). As you can see, you can achieve some pretty amazing performance when you design the hardware with a specific goal.

Hardware, performance and middleware

At Solace, we see messaging middleware as an inextricable combination of network computing and information distribution, and have designed our products to solve just those problems. We use the right technology for each problem, such as network processors for network connectivity and I/O management, field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) for unique indexing and filtering of information, graphic processor units (GPUs) for high-speed multi-dimensional calculations, and battery-backed memory to accelerate “persistent” storage. Our modular appliances house purpose-specific “blades” that have been specifically designed to perform one function each, better and faster than any software solution. Customer decide what functionality they need and mix and match the blades to end up with a box that meets their requirements.

Here are some examples of how customers use Solace to differentiate from their competitors through higher performance:

  • Low latency market data at co-location facility – For latency, the most extreme of our customer’s requirements take the form of high frequency trading at exchange co-location facilities. For this use case, Solace has a shared memory (IPC) product directly integrated within the Solace API that can deliver market data between server cores at 3 million messages per second with average latency under 400 nanoseconds.
  • Filtered market data delivery – A given algorithmic trading engine or human trader usually only uses a tiny subset of market instruments, and market data systems that drown them under a firehose of data cost subscribing applications precious CPU cycles filtering out the data they don’t want, looking for the data they do. For those customers, performance means getting exactly what is needed, in a handful of microseconds, with maximum CPU available for trading.
  • Consistent latency – Even within the niche market of high frequency trading, there are as many strategies as there are participants, and many hinge more on consistency of low latency (or low jitter to use their terminology) than raw speed. Solace eliminates the operating system and executes all messages in a fixed code path run in dedicated chips, resulting in extremely consistent latencies from the median to the 99.9th percentile.
  • Guaranteed delivery – For the vast majority of enterprise applications, messaging middleware has to “guarantee” that messages get to all the places they are needed, keep track of them when they are in transit, and report if any message can’t be delivered. This class of messaging is used in every industry, wherever distributed applications or databases are found. Among our customers, guaranteed messaging is used for financial trading applications, compliance systems, logistics systems, sensor networks and more. Solace’s patented hardware approach to guaranteed messaging provides throughput at rates over 150, 000 messages per second, 20-50 times higher than software brokers, with an order of magnitude lower latency. A single Solace appliance can often replace an entire rack of servers running MQ or JMS, reducing both costs and complexity.
  • WAN-based fanout – For some companies, performance means the ability to support hundreds or thousands of connections over their wide area network. The network processor technology used in Solace appliances is optimized for fanout over WANs to thousands of users with transparent high-availability. One of our customers replaced a data distribution system that consisted of over 100 servers with a single fault-tolerant pair of Solace appliances, and in the process achieved faster delivery speeds and higher reliability.
  • Global data synchronization – For many customers, performance means achieving real time synchronized views of global operations, a notoriously challenging problem over slow, limited bandwidth wide area connections. Solace has optimized for global data links using smart information routing, streaming data protocols, and hardware based compression to allow our customers to move 20-50 times more real-time information over a given WAN link between geographically distributed databases or in memory data grids.

Solace delivers best in class performance for each of the messaging middleware problems above. It’s like one integrated, morphable athlete that is Usain Bolt when the challenge is sprinting, Lebron James when the challenge is dunking and Haile Gebrselassie when the challenge is endurance. The reality is that many business applications present a combination of performance challenges, which have historically led firms to choose different messaging for different problems. With a purpose-built appliance that can deliver ultra-high performance for all of the major types of messaging, middleware becomes a scalable shared service, rather than a constant multi-vendor integration project.

Faster, cheaper, easier – and still seven more reasons

There is an old IT saying “Faster, cheaper, easier—Pick any two.” The idea being that solutions that are fast and cheap will be complex, cheap and easy will be slow, and fast and easy will be expensive. With these last three posts I hope I’ve showed how appliances can legitimately be all three: faster, cheaper and easier than software alternatives.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks for seven more reasons why companies tell us they are investing in messaging appliances.

On to Reason #4…