Open source firm focuses on database high availability

Emic Networks, which specializes in building clustering software for MySQL databases to make them highly available and capable of supporting critical business applications, is expanding its focus to include a wider range of open source and proprietary database environments.

On Monday, the company announced a new name -- Continuent, which means "to continue" in French -- to reflect its broadened focus on creating a continuously available database infrastructure, regardless of database choice. In addition, it announced that it has closed a US$5.75 million Series B round of funding, bringing its total funding since it was founded in 2001 to $15.75 million.

Also on Monday, Continuent outlined its new direction with an expanded product line, as well as an upgrade to its flagship m/cluster software for MySQL with support for Windows and Unix, in addition to Linux. Available early next year, it will be priced starting at US$4,995 per CPU socket.

New product Continuent p/cluster for Postgres is in beta now and is expected to be generally available in the first quarter of next year. Products that support Microsoft SQL Server, Sybase and Oracle databases will come later in 2006. As will uni/cluster for universal database support, Continuent executives say.

Continuent's open source-based software virtualizes databases, meaning that it separates the database from the hardware, distributing and replicating data across multiple nodes, and uses load-balancing to ensure they stay highly available, hiding any failures from applications. Analysts say Continuent's approach is unique, although Oracle takes a similar tack with its RAC [Real Application Clusters] environment.

"There is similarity in some functions, but the totality of Emic Network's offering is broader," says William Hurley, senior analyst at Data Mobility Group. "Oracle is great if you're using the Oracle 10g platform. If applications require heterogeneity, then the Emic platform should be strongly considered."

Database heterogeneity is becoming increasingly important as business customers deploy more dynamic Web-based applications, Hurley says. Further, with more business customers turning to open source, Continuent is addressing a growing opportunity.

"People who have proprietary databases such as Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle feel much more comfortable about considering open source alternatives now that they understand what [Continuent] is doing and see where [Continuent] is going," he says.

Without Continuent, business users have turned to replication, hot standbys, file clustering and master-slave architectures for high availability or have no business continuity plan in place at all for their databases, analysts say.

How2Share Technologies, a peer-to-peer media network for sharing images, video and music via the Web, for example, briefly considered a master/slave replication scenario to scale its Postgres database, but quickly decided it didn't provide the business continuity it was looking for.

Last year, Pucky Loucks, senior systems architect at the company in Victoria, British Columbia, stumbled on ObjectWeb's C-JDBC project, an open source database clustering effort, which became the basis of Sequoia, the open source database clustering project now being sponsored by Continuent.

Continuent is repackaging that software with database specific extensions into a fully-supported commercial product.

Loucks is testing out Continuent's commercial product for Postgres, Continuent p/cluster and plans to have it in production within the next couple of weeks. The software will be used to virtualize four database servers.

"Until this point, we've been gambling to say the least. We had one database and we were crossing our fingers that it wouldn't go down," he says.

Initially, Loucks was concerned that adding the Continuent middleware into the infrastructure would result in a hit on performance, but that hasn't been the case.

Continuent has enabled How2Share Technologies to create the infrastructure it needs, while avoiding more expensive, proprietary database options, Loucks says.

"In the beginning we thought we were going to go with Oracle, but since we were a start-up we needed to be financially responsible," he says. "We decided to start with open source and then, once we started making a profit, migrate to Oracle or Microsoft or IBM. Now that we've stumbled across Sequoia and p/cluster, I just don't see any need."

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