By Katherine Heires

RNA Networks emerged from stealth mode with a memory virtualization system designed to minimize data center costs while improving the performance of high-volume, low-latency applications.

The two-year-old Portland, Oregon-based company says its platform decouples and aggregates unused memory from existing servers and processors, creating a virtual pool that extends beyond a single server’s capacity. "Memory virtualization picks up where server and storage virtualization fall short," said RNA Networks CEO Clive Cook, who called the technology "the third wave" of the movement toward virtualization.

The first product based on the technology - RNAmessenger - can process trading messages and risk analysis 10 to 30 times faster, according to RNA, eliminating network hops and bringing data more directly to the point of use. The approach was developed in part based on discussions with firms such as Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Wachovia Corp.

"We are addressing a long-standing problem in the data center," added Andy Mallinger, VP of marketing at RNA, "taking memory that is captive in individual servers and turning it into a shared network resource that can be used to drive performance out of existing resources in a low-cost way."

Mallinger said the RNAmessenger interface allows users to monitor the memory pool and allocate memory to specific machines. The software servers read data directly from virtualized memory and can support pools of several terabytes for various applications. "There are no hard limits on the number of nodes that can be part of the pool," he said. As a result, RNA’s software can be applied to clustered or grid computing environments, bolster the performance of hosted applications and advance the usage of real-time infrastructures.

Carl Claunch, VP at research firm Gartner, described RNA Networks as a "first mover in creating software to virtualize a memory pool. It’s an approach that is pretty innovative and one that we expect to see more of."

Many trading firms have addressed latency outside the data center and across the enterprise, and have moved their servers as close as possible to key market centers, pointed out Tom Price, research director in TowerGroup’s securities and capital markets division. "What’s left is, how fast does your application run within your box? Anything you can do to get your applications to go faster inside the data center is a good thing."

However, Claunch noted that financial firms will need to assess the reliability and scalability of the platform. The performance of aggregated memory, he added, will be slower than if the memory was accessed by individual servers.

Aite Group senior analyst Adam Honoré questioned RNA Networks’ cost-saving claims. "They are pricing the system on a per-node basis, so actual savings depend on how many nodes are needed and how complicated the integration is," he said. Companies that employ alternative approaches to messaging latency include 29West, 3 Leaf Systems, Celoxica, Tervela and Tibco Software.

RNA Networks, which says it will release RNA Cache, a complementary product, later this year, has a partnership with Colfax International, pairing its memory virtualization technology with Colfax’s high-performance computing systems. The company also announced today that it has secured a $7 million, series A round of funding led by venture capital firm Menlo Ventures.

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