VMA – Voltaire Messaging Abandoned

This morning Mellanox announced that they are releasing the Voltaire Messaging Accelerator (VMA) as open source. Tom Thirer, the director of product management at Mellanox said: “By opening VMA source code we enable our customers with the freedom to implement the acceleration product and more easily tailor it to their specific application needs.”  He then followed this up with “We encourage our customers to use the free and open VMA source package and to contribute back to the community.” Now to be fair, I work for a company that has been selling 10GbE NICs, along with delivering & supporting a competing open source kernel bypass stack to the customer for over 5 years.

So what does moving VMA into OpenSource mean to Mellanox’s customers who run their business on systems that use VMA in production? Well, any problems or issues you now, or will ever have in the future with VMA, are now your problems and you get the privilege of fixing them.

OpenSource is a great method for rapidly advancing a broad appeal code base.  We all know and love Linux, the perceived shining star of the open source community, it runs on everything from a $60 Raspberry Pi to IBM’s System z mainframes. OpenSource works very well when there is significant interest, and demand for what the code offers. Mellanox’s VMA isn’t Linux, it’s a very specific network driver that runs on only one company’s network chip in a very niche set of markets. One of the main reasons Mellanox acquired Voltaire in 2011 for $208M was to gain control of VMA, it was one of the few unique features of Voltaire’s product line. Ever since then Mellanox been trying to stabilize the code base, reduce the jitter (unpredictable delays that can paralyze low latency systems), and exterminate some very pesky bugs. Those bugs and the support issues attached to them are the driving reason behind why Mellanox is now giving the source code away to the open source community.

Some might argue that they’re doing the financial services, HPC, and Web2.0 markets a huge favor by “donating” this code to the community. Mellanox is a business, they’ve spent many millions to acquire VMA in 2011, and likely much more over the past two years to further develop & maintain it. You don’t just jettison an expensive piece of code because you want to give your customers “the freedom to implement the acceleration product and more easily tailor it to their specific application needs.”

It’s been known in the industry for at least six weeks that Mellanox was going in this direction, in fact, the source code has actually been in Google Code since August 12, so whose contributed changes? Well, Mellanox has, over 30 times in fact, in order to get ready for this announcement.  This is big news, so how many people are following the code? Three, and two are the Mellanox employees who have submitted code fixes, all but one submitted by the same employee. How about the discussion list perhaps users are commenting there, nope it’s empty.

Finally, if Mellanox were serious about VMA moving forward there would be one or more courses on this product in the Mellanox Academy, today there are zero!  Check out the course catalog for yourself.  If the catalog isn’t enough to convince you that Mellanox’s focus is on Infiniband then let’s follow the numbers, and look at their most recent financials. Toward the end of their last quarterly SEC 10Q filing, you’ll see that Ethernet made up only 14% of their revenue. FDR, QDR & DDR Infiniband combined make up over 80% of their revenue. Mellanox is Infiniband, and more importantly, Infiniband is Mellanox.

Now Mellanox has said that they will still provide a binary version of VMA that they will support, but they’ve not publicly stated what that support contract will cost.

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