The competition for cooler servers is heating up. This week, Austin-Tx.-based start-up Calxeda announced it received another US $55 million in funding, which could help propel its chips into a server market that's struggling to keep down power consumption. But the company faces steep competition.
Founded in 2008, Calxeda made waves last year when Hewlett-Packard announced it was working with the company to develop a new line of low-power HP servers. Calxeda’s server chip is based on 32-bit designs from ARM, which licenses IP to nearly every smartphone chipmaker. The company reckons servers built with its chips will consume much less power and space than those built with today’s 100-Watt behemoths.
This latest cash infusion, which includes investments from Austin Ventures and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, is an added vote of confidence for Calxeda and a sign that the company might just be on to something.
When I spoke with Karl Freund, Calxeda’s VP of Marketing earlier this year, he said low-power chips will help offer more choice in a server industry dominated by high-speed options: “What you’ll see is the industry will go from a one-size-fits-all model to tailored solutions, much in the same way you see in the cell phone business.”
Freund said Calxeda isn’t aiming for the entire server market. Instead the company is looking at a growing segment of server applications, like processing web search results, that can be broken down into bite-sized computational chunks. Those sorts of workloads can be “scaled out,” meeting increased demand by simply adding more processors.
But Calxeda isn’t the only company with this idea. It's not even the only company whose chips Hewlett-Packard is using for this idea. HP is moving forward with similar “microservers” made with low-power Intel Atom chips. Then there is Sunnyvale, Calif.-based chipmaker AppliedMicro, which is pursuing 64-bit server chips, also based on ARM designs. Even Samsung seems to be getting into the game with its own ARM-based CPUs. It will take a while to see how these bids all shake out, but the next couple of years are shaping up to be pretty interesting.
Rachel Courtland, an unabashed astronomy aficionado, is a former senior associate editor at Spectrum. She now works in the editorial department at Nature. At Spectrum, she wrote about a variety of engineering efforts, including the quest for energy-producing fusion at the National Ignition Facility and the hunt for dark matter using an ultraquiet radio receiver. In 2014, she received a Neal Award for her feature on shrinking transistors and how the semiconductor industry talks about the challenge.