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Dell moves into the Cloud, acquires RNA Networks

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Jun. 20, 2011

Without noise or fanfare, Dell has acquired RNA Networks, one of a handful of innovative startups that have been launched in the past few years to successfully integrate multiple x64-based servers together and allow them to look like a single but very huge computing network to specific workloads.

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Yes. Portland, Oregon-based RNA Networks is into the Cloud Computing Environment and happens to be one area where Dell and most of its rivals are focusing intensely these days.

Yet, Dell hasn't made any formal announcement of its new acquisition, but the RNA Networks site made this simple statement Friday: "RNA Networks Inc has been acquired by Dell, and it listens to its enterprise customers and delivers innovative technology and services that give them the power to do more."

The tidbit announcement also included a sort of an invitation for you to look for a career at Dell. The Texas-based computer and server maker didn't want to say much more about the acquisition at this point. "RNA Networks has a great memory virtualization technology that Dell will leverage in future offerings," Dell said in a statement.

But a Dell spokesman did confirm that the acquisition has been completed and added that the company isn't disclosing the terms of the agreement or providing a timeline on when specific product offerings using RNA Networks intellectual property will be used, or where.

There are a lot of places where Dell can use the RNA Networks software in its servers, storage, and networking products. And it's about time that Dell decided that sophisticated server clustering technology was strategic to its immediate future and that it needed to be less reliant on partnerships to provide such functionality.

Founded five years ago by Ranjit Pandit, who led the database clustering project at SilverStorm Technologies which was itself acquired by QLogic and who also worked on the InfiniBand interconnect and the Pentium 4 chip while at Intel, RNA Networks began to receive my coverage by the media in mid-2008 and since has been on a roll.

It received $7 million in venture funding in March of that year, and closed another $7 million round in February 2009. Menlo Ventures, Oregon Angel Fund, Divergent Ventures, and Reference Capital have also contributed new cash to RNA Networks since then.

The company included technicians from supercomputer maker Cray Research, chip giant Intel, host bus adapter maker QLogic, and Web caching and ISP provider Akamai. The single element that they all had in common at the time was expertise in caching, interconnects, and remote direct access memory (RDMA) technology.

Then RNA came out in February 2009 with a server virtualization technology that doesn't carve up a single physical server into multiple virtual machines. Instead it takes multiple servers and integrates their CPUs and RAM into a single virtual image for enterprise applications to run upon, just like they would on big and expensive mainframe computers sold by IBM.

Creating a server virtualization hypervisor isn't too difficult, but integrating high-speed networks and virtualization technology is something else. Acquired by HP last year, 3Par has similar technology, but RNA's software creates a pool of shared global memory from main memory in each server node that can be accessed like a virtual cache by all of the other nodes in a cluster.

The server nodes can then be linked together with either Ethernet or InfiniBand networks, with or without RDMA turned on, but InfiniBand with RDMA or Ethernet with RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE) will significantly improve the performance of the virtualized memory pool. And that's the whole idea.

RNA then adds a messaging engine, an API layer, and a pointer updating algorithm on top of the global memory infrastructure, with the net effect that all nodes in the cluster see the global shared memory as their own main memory-- an Efficient Cloud Computing Infrastructure. The RNA code keeps the memory coherent across the server, giving all the benefits of an SMP or NUMA server without actually lashing the CPUs on each server together so they can run just one copy of the operating system.

For financing and scientific applications that run messaging protocols, this technology allows for both horizontal application scalability and very fast data sharing across all server nodes.

RNA Messenger, the company's first server virtualization application, deployed on 32-bit or 64-bit hardware and ran on Sparc, Power, x86, x64, and Itanium processors. The software could boost throughput on workloads by a factor or 10 to 30 times and scale to hundreds of nodes and multiple terabytes of main memory across those nodes.

In July 2010, RNA Networks refreshed its product line, converging separate features in RNA Messenger and RNA Cache, a separate but related product for Web caching, into a single product called Memory Virtualization Acceleration, or MVX, and put out a 2.5 release on the product.

This included a whole slew of new features called Memory Cache, Memory Motion, and Memory Store. The cache feature turns a memory pool into a cache for network-attached storage (NAS) arrays, which RNA Networks says costs less than placing RAM onto a NAS network.

Memory Store turns the memory pool into virtual block storage devices that look like virtual RAM disks to servers. The Memory Motion feature is then aimed at giving operating systems on virtual servers a swap device to get around waiting for the underlying iron, which might be disks or solid state drives, to fetch data.

In turn, the MVX block device is very fast, reading data more than 50 times faster and writing data 24 times faster than SATA disks.

The benefit of the MVX software is that hypervisors, operating systems, and applications that have been written for disk access don't have to be recoded. You just simply point them at the MVX software, which looks like a file or block of files, depending on your specific enterprise needs.

Source: RNA Networks.

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