Schooner Launches Specialized Servers for Speedy Data Delivery

schooner-appliance-4-8-09Schooner Information Technology, a 2-year-old year old startup in Menlo Park, Calif., today came out of stealth mode with an appliance designed to speed up the transfer of information. As online data becomes more prevalent and the patience to wait for that data wanes, the company is offering a machine that’s purpose-built to speed up memcached and MySQL for web-scale applications. This means faster-loading photos for a site like Facebook and faster access to databases for serving up other information online.

Schooner has created specialized machines optimized to run those software applications at more rapid speeds than a commodity server would. The payoff is better performance, a 60 percent reduction in energy use, and a space-saving box. The company, which has raised $15 million from Redpoint Ventures and CMEA, has built a whopper of a machine that packs the latest Intel Nehalem server chips, 512 GB of memory, and 1-Gigabit Ethernet or 10-Gigabit Ethernet in a 2u rack.

The hope is that the Facebooks and Googles of the world will choose a single Schooner machine, which costs $45,000, in place of eight or more commodity servers running MySQL or memcached. Those commodity servers can start at $600 apiece and increase in priceĀ  depending on how they’re configured.

Schooner’s underlying premise in offering the appliances — essentially that hardware needs to be specially tuned for software — is one that’s being explored in greater detail by vendors ranging from Microsoft to VMware. However, I wonder if energy savings and better performance are enough to lure giant data center operators away from cheap commodity servers.

Schooner’s co-founder and CEO, John R. Busch, says that some smaller web operations and those overseas would rather buy purpose-built machines instead of building custom software to improve performance on commodity boxes. Many big-name web site operators, such as Amazon or Google, roll their own software, but Schooner thinks there’s a market in folks who operate web-scale data centers and just want to buy an expensive box and forget about it. Busch may be right, but I’ve seen appliance efforts play out before. And I can’t help but think of that abandoned panini press buried in the back of one of my cabinets.

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