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Gasp! Facebook's hardware king joins board of ARM server biz Calxeda

Mournful puckering sound squeaks out of Intel HQ

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Facebook's head of hardware design and supply chain operations has joined the board of directors of Calxeda, a company that specializes in building servers out of ARM processors.

The strategic appointment was announced on Thursday and will see the man in charge of one of the biggest buyers of modern chips, and leader of the "open source" data center hardware Open Compute Project scheme, gain further insight into the inner workings of a company that hopes to displace Intel in the data center. Yes, readers, Chipzilla should be worried about this.

Intel traditionally designs and fabricates its own family of silicon for the masses, and although has recently dabbled in producing customized packages, it's always been ARM's business to license processor blueprints to semiconductor giants, which then tweak and manufacture the chips as they desire under different brand names.

And just last week the fantastically named Frank Frankovsky told us in an unrelated chat that "the really cool thing about the ARM ecosystem is end users [such as Facebook] could become architectural licensees," and stressed that just as Facebook is beginning to do custom chips with Intel, it is also interested in some of the opportunities posed by the power-sipping ARM chips that are beginning to come out for servers.

Facebook doesn't necessarily want to design and build its own chips, he said, insisting that it would only need to do that if it was "ineffective at influencing [ARM] suppliers." You can't get much better influence over a company than being on the board of a company working in that space.

"The Calxeda team has a terrific vision for the role of ARM in the datacenter, and they have the talent, the technology, and the commitment to openness required to execute on that vision,” Frankovsky said in a statement announcing the move. "I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to collaborate with their executive team and the rest of the board more deeply as they work toward 64-bit fabric and beyond."

It's unlikely that ARM will ever displace Intel in Facebook's data center (or any large facility, for that matter) since the social network needs chips with screaming fast CPUs to deliver dynamic web pages and perform similar tasks.

But we wouldn't be surprised if Facebook experimented with putting low-power ARM chips inside the controllers for its cold storage servers – after all, the economics and task fit ARM perfectly for that, seeing as its cores are used as the brains in hard drives, despite Intel's recent low-power Atom push. ®

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