Hardware acceleration for virtual machines such as the JVM and the CLR may greatly improve performance for some customers by speeding processing and decreasing the memory requirements. During the dot-com era, there were a number of companies (both startups and established players) who rushed to introduce Java processors, particularly for the embedded systems market. Most of these ventures folded, though the Verilog code for Sun’s own picoJava can be viewed for research use.
Azul has introduced a “network attached” processing system that is shared by different nodes in a cluster, similar to some storage setups. The company claims that this greatly improves Java processing by offloading the virtual machine requirements.
Beyond this though, it seems most users have simply stuck with just-in-time compilers. Given the recent rise in popularity for co-processors, we may soon see a new breed of Java accelerators.