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Chip start-up seeks to lower electric bills in data centers

By Dan Nystedt
August 16, 2010 07:50 AM ET

IDG News Service - A new start-up funded by major chip makers and investment firms is taking aim at electricity bills, the biggest cost in data centers.

Smooth-Stone, which on Monday announced it secured US$48 million in new funding, plans to use mobile phone microprocessors inside the high-powered computer servers used in data centers to lower their electric bills. The chips will be an alternative to server chips such as those based on x86 technology from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

The headlines Smooth-Stone has already garnered, Start-up Aims to Slay Chip Goliath, and, An atom bomb aimed at Intel, suggest the technology will be available soon and effortlessly.

But the reality is it might take a while. The company faces stiff competition and several daunting technological challenges in its quest to build good server chips using mobile phone processing cores.

There are already companies developing such chips, including Marvell Technology and a company Google recently acquired, Agnilux, which could have products out soon. And there's the issue of taking on Intel, a company with a history of crushing rivals.

The excitement around Smooth-Stone appears to be coming from the fact that the company has won funding from a group of investors that includes chip makers Arm Holdings, Texas Instruments, and the major investor in GlobalFoundries, ATIC (Advanced Technology Investment Company).

"This kind of investment, the amount, and the strength of this syndicate is a strong endorsement for the innovation we are bringing to market," said Smooth-Stone CEO Barry Evans, in a statement. Evans used to work for Marvell as vice president and general manager of its cellular and handheld group, which Marvell acquired from Intel a few years earlier.

"The capital will be applied directly to the final development and market delivery of high performance, low-power chips that will change the server market and the makeup of data centers," the statement says.

The problem Smooth-Stone is trying to solve is serious, especially in the new world of cloud computing, which is requiring more data centers. The powerful processors inside data center servers require a lot of electricity to run and give off a lot of heat. That heat leads to even more power use in data centers via the air conditioners and other cooling methods used to keep them from overheating and shutting down.

The most popular processors used inside mobile phones, and the ones Smooth-Stone and others are aiming to use in servers, come from Arm, a company with a keen focus on low-energy processors for devices that need batteries.

But Arm's focus on mobile phones also means there are limitations the chips will have to overcome, mainly in software and calculating speeds.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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