Azul Systems has announced its next-generation Vega multi-core processor, jumping from a mere 24 cores to 48 cores.

The new chip will allow Azul to build systems with a whopping 768 cores, designed to let data centres consolidate hundreds or thousands of virtual-machine based applications onto systems taking up 11U of rack space.

"This is about building an effective consolidation platform," said Azul co-founder and chief technology officer Scott Sellers, a co-founder of 3dfx who also runs Azul's hardware engineering team. "Data centres need to consolidate onto substantially fewer platforms, which reduces the number of management resources needed to manage their systems. You can't do that with commodity infrastructure, on Sun's Niagara or any of these things."

Azul's speciality is "network attached processing", a way of solving the high processing demands of Java, .Net and other virtual machine-based systems by offloading them onto specialised hardware. The first, 24-core Vega chip allowed was sold in configurations of up to 16 processors per appliance, meaning 384 cores in about 11U of rack space.

The Vega 2 doubles the number of cores, and the switch to a more advanced, 90-nanometre manufacturing process means the chips won't be significantly larger or consume much more power, Azul said. The first Vega used a 130-nanometre process; both are manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp (TSMC).

Like its predecessor, Vega 2 is 64-bit, and all its cores are cache-coherent, meaning they're fully independent. The new chip, set for availability next year, uses a nine-layer copper/low-k interconnect and multi-threshhold transistors, which Azul says increases power efficiency.

Azul promises the 821-million-transistor chip will show an improved performance-per-watt over the first Vega - an important factor in increasingly power-hungry data centres.

"The industry is really struggling with how to power and cool the ever-increasing performance that the industry is able to deliver. That's a fundamental problem," Sellers said. He noted that while performance has grown at Moore's law, so has power consumption, with performance per watt remaining about the same.

Last year Azul expanded into the UK and, in December, launched its mid-range CentiCore system, with a 96-core Compute Appliance and 32GB of shared memory, integrated with two two-way, 1GB Linux servers from Penguin Computing and an HP ProCurve Gigabit Ethernet switch.

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. The BEA deal has encouraged other software vendors to follow suit, and Azul is promising similar deals in coming weeks.

Earlier this month, the company sued Sun Microsystems, saying it had become apparent that Sun planned to sue for patent infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets. "It became obvious that Sun was not interested in learning the truth about our technology," Sellers said. "Instead, it was competitively motivated and was inevitably going to file a lawsuit against us."

Sun has said it was surprised by Azul's lawsuit and had hoped for a business resolution; but Azul alleges that the terms offered by Sun would have meant part ownership of the company.

"We are confident that we will be victorious and at the same time will continue to innovate at a faster pace than the rest of the industry," Sellers said. "The Vega chip is a great example. We've been in the market for only eight to 10 months with Vega 1, and we already have working samples of Vega 2 in the lab... We want to bring the pace of innovation of the graphics hardware industry to enterprise computing."