Formulus Black has proposed a way to make x86 servers run faster, using a data-reduction method.
Its software can run on bare-metal machines, and in virtual boxes in public clouds, such as Amazon and Azure.
How it works is a little vague, so here's how best we can describe it, according to what Formulus Black claims. The software scans applications, identifies repeated bit sequences, and replaces them with so-called Forsa bit markers (FbMs). When part of the application's code is required for execution, its FbM is unpacked and run. Similarly, requested data is unpacked, accessed, and written back as an FbM as necessary.
ForsaOS is the name of the upstart's Linux-based, KVM hypervisor-using operating system that does all this deduplication. The FbMs are lossless, skipping the need for compression or classic deduplication, as used in backup-to-disk target arrays, it is claimed.
We're told that since application footprints are reduced in size, the amount of usable system memory is effectively increased: up to 3.85x in a demo system, with amplification factors as high as 24x in some circumstances. Your mileage may vary. Thus, it should be possible to fit more code and data, or more virtual machines, in memory, according to Formulus.
Processing the markers forces the CPU to do more work, and this can hit performance. However, Formulus claims that slowdown is mitigated by the fact more stuff can fit in RAM, and thus there should be fewer storage accesses, and so overall, apps should run more or less normal speed.
There is a web-based management interface that works with any browser, and a RESTFul API set for controlling all system functions, were told. ForsaOS works with Intel Haswell and later x86 servers, and has been tested on Dell EMC, HPE and Supermicro servers. The minimum configuration is a two-socket server with 384GB of DRAM.
Formulus aims to reduce IO accesses to external storage drives, by keeping as much as possible in RAM, and it backs up the server DRAM pool with a flash store and UPS. The system memory contents are written to a flash drive if the power is cut, intentionally or not. DRAM contents are flushed to SSD storage periodically, too. This is a system-level process, effectively a full memory state capture, and not a VM-level snapshot save.
According to CTO Rob Peglar, this scheme turns server DRAM into a single giant non-volatile pool of storage. Formulus will have access to true non-volatile memory storage when Intel Cascade Lake CPU systems arrive with Optane storage, Peglar added.
Unchanged application code
Existing applications run unchanged in FbM form on a Forsa server. ForsaOS uses the Linux kernel and has a built-in hypervisor, based on KVM, which presents the amplified memory to each guest OS as virtual storage, accessible at memory channel speeds.
Applications think they are doing IO to a storage volume, but the transfer of information is to a virtual LUN in DRAM that is fast to access compared to storage hardware IO. These virtual LUNs are called LEMs – logical extensions of memory – and they are assigned to virtual machines. Multiple virtual servers can share the same virtual storage space.
Peglar claimed a Microsoft SQL Server virtual machine runs well in a ForsaOS system with eight CPU cores and 12GB of memory. It can pump out 952,000 transactions per minute in a TPC-C style benchmark, we're told. This, he said, is a very small virtual system for SQL Server.
Symbolic IO and bit markers
If the term "bit markers" sounds familiar, it's because it was used by Symbolic IO, a precursor company to Formulus Black, which went under in 2017, losing its founder and CEO.
The New Jersey company was reorganised and refunded with venture capital. It is led by chairman and CEO Dr Carl Bettis and ex-Symbolic IO execs Steve Sicola and Rob Peglar are working as Senior Fellow and CTO respectively. There are some 50 employees in total.
We reckon Symbolic IO represented a kind of false dawn for bit-marker-style application servers. Here we have Formulus Black, a phoenix from the Symbolic IO ashes. Will the bird fly? The biz is offering demos if you care to find out more. ®