Azul Systems has launched a "network attached processing" system aimed at medium-sized businesses and individual projects with heavy Java workloads - just in time for Christmas.

Azul's CentiCore could come in handy for handling those heavy Xmas e-commerce transaction spikes, the company said.

Java and other virtual machine-based software generally requires more processing muscle than conventional code, and Azul is one of many companies looking to address this problem. The company's idea is to offload Java, .Net or other virtual machine processing from a conventional application server onto a specialised hardware appliance, with more Azul appliances added as needed.

The Compute Appliance line, introduced this spring, is based on a 64-bit RISC chip called Vega, with 24 cores per chip. The appliances can come in configurations of up to 16 processors, meaning 384 cores in about 11U of rack space, consuming 2.7 kilowatts of power. Java applications tend to be highly multi-threaded, making them particularly suited for many cores, Azul said.

CentiCore includes a mid-range Compute Appliance with 96 cores and 32GB of shared memory, integrated with two two-way, 1GB Linux servers from Penguin Computing and an HP ProCurve Gigabit Ethernet switch. JBoss' open-source Application Server and Portal also come with the package.

The system takes up 8U of standard rack space and consumes 1.75 kilowatts, which Azul claims is far less than would be required to run a similar virtual machine workload on general purpose servers.

The system is aimed at medium-sized businesses with heavy demand on their Java applications, or individual projects within large enterprises. "This cost-effective platform increases developer productivity, decreases time to market, and can quickly address resource requirements of web-enabled applications in time for the holiday season," the company said.

It hasn't yet been proven that businesses - even big ones with lots of Java applications - will buy into the network attached processing model. Everett Consulting, which provides services around CentiCore, said it sees a demand in smaller companies. "This will allow IT project managers and development teams to quickly complete IT projects with massive compute capacity," said chief executive JJ Everettt.

Azul is certified with application server vendors such as JBoss and BEA, but there remain sticky licensing issues around the company's multi-core systems. The Azul system and the "host" general purpose server both have to be licensed for the application server, but the number of cores in an Azul system could theoretically mean absurdly high licensing fees.

A compromise struck with BEA over the summer means that companies don't have to pay extra licensing fees for their Azul systems directly. Instead, when they "authorise" their application server to tap into an Azul system, it simply triples the standard licence fee.