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.”
Calxeda’s ARM-Based Server Chips Re-emerge With New Company
The scale-out data center space is becoming the key driver behind server sales worldwide. Big-name companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft run huge data centers that house massive numbers of small, dense servers and value power efficiency and cost as high as performance when looking for systems. It’s an area officials with ARM and its partners are targeting, as are other vendors. Intel, which holds more than 95 percent of the server chip market, is rapidly building out its portfolio of cloud- and workload-optimized chips through its Atom and Xeon platforms, and is growing its custom chip business.
At the same time, IBM’s OpenPower Foundation, an open-source project launched last year to extend the reach of the Power architecture, also is putting the bulk of its efforts toward the scale-out compute space.
Silver Lining is partnering with Foxconn’s Cloud Enterprise Solution Business Group to build the systems, and the company will continue investing in the Calxeda technology. Foxconn is moving into the server manufacturing business; HP officials in May announced it was partnering with Foxconn to build low-power servers for cloud environments.
There are few details about the systems themselves. On the Website, the company highlights the work Calxeda engineers did not only in developing the chips themselves, but also the Layer 2 switching fabric, adaptive interconnect designs and management capabilities. In systems with high core counts, a fabric that enables them to communicate is crucial.
The systems include the Silver Lining Architecture Management (SLAM), out-of-band remote software for cluster management. The SLAM provides an overlay that enables system management commands for the ARM CPU and SoC Management Controller (SMC), which monitors the CPUs and the 10 Gigabit fabric for each node, according to the company.
“There are (48) Nodes per SLS and therefore (48) slices of SLS fabric each controlled by its respective SMC,” the company said on its site. “SLAM will allow for easy and efficient utilization of all 48 nodes in the chassis, thereby efficiently managing Network CPUs and 10Gb Node Fabrics.”
Evans said he likes the direction SLS is heading with the technology, particularly as it looks to create Calxeda-based products that are optimized for particular workloads. Demand from businesses is moving away from general-purpose systems and toward data center appliances that are designed for particular workloads. Silver Lining is aiming to address that demand, he said.
More information on how Silver Lining will develop the technology apparently will come next year. It’s unclear whether it will be a company only selling systems based on the Calxeda technology or will also sell Calxeda-based SoCs to other system makers. Evans would only say that SLS is taking an appliance approach now, with the goal of “learning from this one and taking [the technology] forward.”