In its effort to adapt cell phone chips for low-power servers, Calxeda has taken a deliberate path to market. More than two years after raising $48 million from ARM Holdings - the British vendor whose processors power the iPhone and iPad - Calxeda's server technology is still in the testing and development phase. But not for much longer.
"By the end of this year there will be a couple of OEMs with production systems," said Karl Freund, VP of marketing for Calxeda. "The chip is done and is undergoing testing and optimization, primarily for power and networking performance."
At least seven server vendors are working with Calxeda technology, including Boston Limited and HP, whose Project Moonshot ARM servers are also being used in the TryStack project. All of these initiatives are currently offering Calxeda technology for testing and development, rather than production environments.
A number of other companies developing next-generation low-power servers have servers in production, and one (SeaMicro) has already been acquired by AMD. But Freund says that Calxeda's top concern isn't a race to market, but making sure the product is ready.
"We don't want to disappoint anyone," said Freund. "When we have a product, we will let folks know. You can dig yourself a deep hole by overspinning what you've got. We'd rather be more conservative."
A "New Breed" of Server
Calxeda’s EnergyCore is based on processor technology from ARM and consumes about 5 watts of power – and as little as 1.5 watts in microserver configurations – which could allow data center operators to dramatically slash their power usage for some applications.
Calxeda’s approach, which it calls a Server-on-a-Chip (SoC), combines a low-power processor, a network fabric and management software. The integrated fabric switch on every chip lowers cost of interconnecting thousands of servers, while an embedded management engine optimizes power management.The company says this holistic approach has created a “completely new breed of server” that captures efficiencies at multiple levels of the data center energy challenge.
That approach has required additional time for testing and fine-tuning to find the right balance between power and performance, Freund said. Calxeda has been placing its technology in the hands of server vendors and partners.
HP Takes a Moonshot
That includes HP, which is using Calxeda’s technology in its new Redstone server platform, the first phase of a broader focus on low-power server architecture known as Project Moonshot. The HP-designed system contains 288 Calxeda servers in a single 7-inch (4Rack Unit) chassis. HP has shared some Calxeda ARM systems with end users, but most users are conducting their testing in HP's labs.
“It's a great relationship," Freund said of HP. "We are proud to have been selected as HP’s first ARM processor and there is no reason why we will not be an important part of their roadmap. We're hard at work on the next-generation platform with HP."
Calxeda garnered much of the early buzz in the ARM server arena, but it now has company. Other companies working on ARM-based prototypes include Applied Micro, Maxell and Cavium.
Freund says there will be plenty of room in the low-power server market for multiple ARM initiatives. In the meantime, Calxeda is focused on getting its own technology ready for production workloads.
"The OEMs will decide if this is a market they are interested in and willing to invest in," said Freund, "Some OEMs will make that transition (to production) easily. Others have very stringent standards. We respect that."