Calxeda's ARM-Based Server Chips Re-emerge With New Company

Silver Lining Systems next year will launch servers and storage appliances that will be based on technology from Calxeda, which shut down last year.

Silver Lining server

It was a year ago that Barry Evans was abruptly closing the doors of Calxeda, the company he founded in 2008 and a pioneer in developing low-power ARM-based chips for use in servers for scale-out data center environments.

Calxeda already had 32-bit systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) on the market and a fabric technology designed for highly dense, multicore environments. It was ahead of many of its competitors in pushing the ARM architecture in the data center. The problem was that the company sort of out-kicked its coverage, and while the technology and engineering talent was there, the market had not yet caught up. In December 2013, Calxeda ran out of money when financing fell through, and Evans and other Calxeda officials had to shut down the company and let go of most of its 130 employees.

"It was sort of hard to process," Evans, the former Calxeda CEO, said in an interview with eWEEK. "We had the technology, and we had the people. But sometimes, that doesn't matter when you're dealing with financing."

Twelve months later, things have changed. Calxeda's technology is re-emerging with a company called Silver Lining Systems (SLS), which is developing compute and storage servers that will leverage the IP Calxeda developed—from the SoCs to the fabric—and will begin to introduce those systems early next year.

For Evans, it's exciting to see the technology he helped create—and which many in the industry thought was gone—re-enter the highly competitive market.

"They picked it up and are running with it," Evans said of Silver Lining, with which he is working as an adviser. "Here we are a year later, and it's still a great product, great technology."

SLS is the cloud subsidiary of AtGames Cloud Holdings, a 13-year-old cloud gaming vendor that last year was developing systems based on Calxeda technology, Evans said. When the company shut down, AtGames wanted to continue to develop its systems, so it bought Calxeda's assets and found a home for them in Silver Lining, which was created by AtGames as part of a larger R&D effort to build scale-out cloud compute capabilities.

In developing the systems, Silver Lining is working with partners that include ARM and the server group within Foxconn, which is best known as the Chinese manufacturer that puts together Apple iPhones and other mobile devices.

SLS has run successful proof-of-concept projects, and the systems will be introduced in early 2015, according to an email sent to media outlets.

An ARM spokesman declined to comment on Silver Lining and the re-emergence of the Calxeda technology.

Calxeda was among the early proponents of using ARM's low-power architecture—which is found in most smartphones and tablets—in dense, energy-efficient servers aimed at scale-out data center environments. The company had developed a number of 32-bit SoCs, and was working with such system OEMs as Hewlett-Packard and Dell. However, as ARM was releasing its 64-bit ARMv8-A architecture to its partners, Calxeda ran out of money when financing fell through, and the company closed its doors.

Over this year, chip makers like Applied Micro, Cavium, Advanced Micro Devices and Marvell Technology have unveiled or are readying 64-bit ARM server chips. In addition, Qualcomm officials said the company will develop ARM-based server SoCs, and more system makers, like supercomputer vendor Cray, have said they will evaluate the architecture.

"There's certainly a tremendous amount of interest in the ARM server space," Evans said, noting that "the competition is exciting, and the effect of competition is to drive innovation."