VMware's SpringSource to buy in-memory vendor GemStone

The acquisition will add scaling technology to SpringSource's arsenal of cloud tools

VMware's SpringSource is acquiring database-caching software company GemStone Systems, the company announced Thursday. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

With this purchase, VMware will obtain a set of technologies and expertise to address one of the major bottlenecks in cloud computing, that of scaling databases.

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"GemStone solves a really important problem: If you are building applications that need to scale out in the enterprise or move to the cloud, you need to scale your applications without major architectural changes. GemStone's technology has a proven capability of doing that," said Rod Johnson, general manager of the SpringSource division of VMware, itself an EMC company.

GemStone's flagship software is its GemFire Enterprise, an in-memory caching database for distributed platforms. In-memory databases work by storing the entire database within working memory, eliminating, or at least delaying, the time-intensive process of writing to and reading from a database on a disk.

"Basically what GemFire does is load live data into this middleware [layer], and Java applications interact with it in real time, as if it were a real data store. At the end of the day, that data is typically put back into a relational store or some sort of asynchronous end-of-day record," said Richard Lamb, president of GemStone.

As a result of this technique, "you get out of the box an order of magnitude improvement in performance," Lamb claimed.

The technology has gotten some use in the financial community already, running in commercial grid computing systems. The U.S. Defense Department has also used the technology for distributed command and control systems. Overall, the company has about 200 enterprise customers, Lamb said.

Although in-memory databases are offered by a wide variety of vendors, such as Oracle's TimesTen In-Memory database 11G, GemStone has the added advantage of running in a distributed architecture, rather than in a symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) one, Lamb said. This approach allows applications to be split across geographically dispersed data centers.

Such technology may help VMware in its pursuit of providing virtualization-based tools and services for the growing cloud-computing market.

Last year, VMware purchased Java platform software vendor SpringSource for $362 million, and that company has since played a pivotal role in building out VMware's set of Java-based cloud tools, with its open-source Spring framework as well as its production-ready version of the Tomcat application server, tc Server.

Last month, SpringSource announced plans to acquire RabbitMQ, a vendor of messaging software, which would allow programs to be broken into components, also handy for a cloud environment.

As in the case of RabbitMQ, VMware is purchasing GemStone, though its products will be managed by SpringSource.

Last month, VMware kicked off a joint cloud service with Salesforce.com for running Java-based applications, called VMforce.

This GemStone technology is one approach to handling what is widely seen as one of the worst bottlenecks in cloud-computing systems, the relational database.

"Eventually, you will get to the point where you have all these servers hitting the same database, and hitting it very frequently, and synchronizing their [data] states with the database," Johnson said. "This produces pretty poor response times. The GemStone product eliminates a lot of those calls to your database."

"One of the major problems associated with distributed systems ... is data management and caching, capabilities that Gemstone brings to SpringSource," said John Barr, distinguished analyst at IT research firm The 451 Group.

In addition to the GemStone purchase, VMware also seems to be exploring the possibility of using non-SQL, nicknamed NoSQL, databases, to mitigate the database issues in the cloud.

In March, it hired Salvatore Sanfilippo, lead developer of the Redis open-source, in-memory non-relational database.

"We're not trying to get into the database market per se," said CEO Paul Maritz, answering an analyst question about Sanfilippo's hire during VMware's quarterly earnings call in April. "We are trying to be in the business of enabling applications for the cloud, both private and public, and building off of our SpringSource acquisition, we are adding to the repertoire of underlying middleware and technologies that we think will be needed to develop a new generation of applications."

A privately held company based in Beaverton, Oregon, GemStone has about 100 employees. As a business entity it will be folded into SpringSource, though the GemStone nameplate may be retained, Johnson said.

SpringSource has pledged to continue to support GemStone's current customer base, as well as the company's other products, such as its software for running distributed Smalltalk applications, GemStone/S.

(James Niccolai in San Francisco contributed to this report.)

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