Pivotal sets the stage for open-source in-memory computing

Following through on a promise to open-source its data analysis software, Pivotal has released the source code that powers its GemFire in-memory database.

Opening up the code could give enterprise customers more input into what new features are added into future versions. For Pivotal, the move provides an entry to those corporate clients that have adopted policies of using open-source software whenever possible, said Roman Shaposhnik, Pivotal's director of open source.

The company also hopes the software, released under the name Project Geode, will find a wider user base, one looking for big data analysis technologies speedier than Hadoop or Spark, Shaposhnik said.

Releasing the code is the first step in Pivotal's plan, formulated earlier this year, to open-source components of the company's Big Data Suite, which includes GemFire. Later this year, the company plans to release the code for its Pivotal Hawq SQL engine for Hadoop and the Pivotal Greenplum Database.

Not all of GemFire is being open-sourced. The company is holding back some advanced features for its commercial edition, such as the ability to stage continuous queries and establish wide-area network connectivity between clusters. Those who pay for the commercial edition will also receive enterprise-level support.

GemFire is distributed in-memory software, which provides a way to hold large amounts of data in the working memory of multiple servers, or nodes. GemFire can balance data across hundreds of nodes, potentially managing terabytes of data, the company says.

With this design, GemFire can provide enterprise applications with low-latency access to datasets that are too large to be crammed into the memory of a single server. The software provides all the reliability properties offered by traditional relational databases, which are commonly characterized as ACID (atomicity, consistency, isolation and durability), the company says. It includes fail-over capabilities, so the system will remain responsive should one or several individual nodes fail.

Independent software vendor GemStone developed GemFire more than a decade ago, and the code base has grown to more than 1 million lines of code. VMware acquired GemStone in 2010. The technology was transferred to Pivotal, a spin-off company created in 2013 to collect and integrate the growing collection of data analysis technologies owned by VMware and its parent company EMC.

GemFire was originally developed to power mission-critical applications in the financial industry and has been used for large-scale critical operations such as stock trading, financial payments and ticket sales. Pivotal estimates the software is used to execute more than 10 million transactions a day.

GemFire is one of a number of in-memory databases on the market, said Curt Monash, head of IT analyst firm Monash Research. Alternatives include SAP's HANA, Tibco's ActiveSpace and AeroSpike's and MemSQL's eponymous databases. Tachyon, the open-source memory-pooling software currently under development for Spark and Hadoop, may also interest enterprises, Monash said.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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