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Calxeda gears up for server ARM race

'We need a new clock'

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

SC10 The secretive ARM server startup formerly known as Smooth-Stone and now called Calxeda is coming out a bit today at the SC10 supercomputer trade show in New Orleans. But don't get too excited. The company is not talking about specific chip or server designs based on the ARM RISC architecture, but rather giving potential customers in the HPC world and in the general purpose server racket the design goals it has set for its initial products.

Calxeda is a fake name, and one that Barry Evans, the founder of Smooth-Stone had to change because someone else owns that name. The "smooth stone" in the company's original name refers to the round rock (not to be confused with Dell) that David slew Goliath with using his slingshot. It is pronounced "cal-zay-duh," not "cal-zon-ee," and the X in there is an intentional tweak on the x86 and x64 used to designate Intel and compatible processors.

Evans founded what is now called Calxeda in January 2008 with Larry Wikelius, who was at Opteron server maker Newisys, which sparked to life and generated $450m in server revenues before going the way of all flesh, and David Borland, who has been in charge of chip designs at Marvell, Intel, and AMD. Evans ran Intel's low-power x86 and Xscale ARM chip businesses.

Intel acquired the StrongARM RISC processor business from failing Digital Equipment Corp in 1998, and in 2006, it sold off that XScale business to chip maker Marvell for $600m - a move it may eventually regret with Marvell and others like Calxeda working on multicore ARM chips aimed squarely at server workloads. Evans is the chief executive officer at Calxeda, while Wikelius is vice president of software engineering and Borland is vice president of hardware engineering.

Back in August, Calxeda raked in $48m in funding from tech partners ARM Holdings, Advanced Technology Investment Company, Texas Instruments as well as venture capitalists Battery Ventures, Flybridge Capital Partners, and Highland Capital Partners. ARM Holdings is the holding company that licenses the ARM chip architecture that has myriad designs (used on mobile phones and other portable computing devices where battery power drives the design).

ATIC is the investment arm of the Abu Dhabi government that bought the foundry business from Intel nemesis Advanced Micro Devices last year, creating GlobalFoundries. TI is an ARM chip maker in its own right already and is getting out of the fab business (which is why Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp is making Oracle's latest Sparc T3 chips and not TI, which fabbed Sparc chips for Sun Microsystems for decades).

Now that Calxeda has some cash, it has a new office in Austin, Texas, and it's hiring more engineers as well as an executive team to help it make and push its products once they are ready for market. To that end, Calxeda has hired Steve Beatty to be vice president of manufacturing at the chip startup; he was previously reponsible for production at chip maker SigmaTel up through its initial public offering in 2003 and up through its acquisition by Freescale Semiconductor in 2008.

Bob Baughman has been hired by Calxeda to be vice president of business development and sales. Baughman was previously vice president of product management for the $700m video solutions group at Ploycom and managed the company's partnership with Microsoft; he also held positions at Marvell and Intel, and came to Intel when the chip giant bought Dialogic in 1999 (the media and signaling chip maker was spun back out of Intel in 2006).

The final new member to the executive team is Karl Fruend, who cut his teeth on the Hewlett-Packard workstation business, did marketing for Cray Research before that company was sold to a prior incarnation of Silicon Graphics. Freund is vice president of marketing for Calxeda, and has spent the past ten years working at IBM, first in charge of marketing for its Tivoli systems management software, then its AIX servers, and most recently its System z mainframes.

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