Austin: InfiniBand HQ?

Bragging and Texas go together like enchiladas and hot sauce.

Bragging and Texas go together like enchiladas and hot sauce. So, its not surprising that the states capital happily ticks off its list of superlatives — Its the "Live Music Capital of the World"; it has the worlds largest urban bat colony; and, by the way, the dome at the Texas State Capitol Building is actually a stirrup or two taller than the one located in Washington, D.C.

Theres also no denying that Austin is emerging as a center of InfiniBand development. Two prominent software makers — Lane15 Software and Vieo — as well as three hardware makers — Banderacom, Crossroads Systems and OmegaBand — are located in Austin. And while several InfiniBand companies, including silicon providers like Intel and Mellanox, are in Silicon Valley, Austin companies are getting lots of attention.

"Theres a disproportionate amount of InfiniBand activity in Austin," said Gordon Haff, research director for high-end architectures at Aberdeen Group. Haff and others attribute that fact to the availability of venture capital in Austin, proximity to InfiniBand box makers like Dell Computer and Houstons Compaq Computer, a wealth of technology talent, a good atmosphere for start-ups and the citys reputation as a good place to live.

Venture money may be the most critical part of the equation. "When we were raising money, we went to Sand Hill Road," said Steve Harriman, vice president of marketing at Vieo, which makes InfiniBand element management software. "The venture capital people here in Austin and in Boston got it more than the guys on the West Coast." Vieos primary venture money came from TL Ventures, a Pennsylvania-based venture firm with offices in Austin.

Lane15, which is developing network management software for InfiniBand, was started by Alisa Nessler, a technology veteran who was working as a venture fellow at AV Labs, a seed-stage fund affiliated with Austin Ventures, the largest VC firm in the Southwest. Austin Ventures later provided funding for Lane15, as well as InfiniBand silicon maker Banderacom and Crossroads Systems, a publicly traded company that has focused on fibre channel storage but is now moving into InfiniBand as well.

All of the companies drew talent from Austins chipmakers. Advanced Micro Devices, IBM and Motorola all make or design semiconductors in Austin.

"The CPUs of the world are built in Austin," said Brian Gardner, vice president of business development and marketing at OmegaBand, which makes InfiniBand modules. "The expertise to build high-performance computing systems and the silicon to move data is the same expertise you need for InfiniBand. The skill sets are closely related."

Austins abundance of technology talent has also created an entrepreneurial mindset. The city has spawned numerous successful ventures, as well as some that have failed. Dell, the citys highest-profile tech employer, is backing InfiniBand. Earlier this month, Dell Ventures invested in Lane15, and Manish Mehta, a principal at the firm, said it is "actively looking" at other InfiniBand companies.

While theres little doubt that Dells money and other factors are contributing to Austins success in the new technology, Phill Grove, vice president of marketing at Banderacom, said theres another reason why engineers and tech people are making the Texas capital into an InfiniBand hub: "Austin, no doubt, is a hip place to live."