Smooth-Stone, an Austin, Texas-based startup that’s looking to improve data center efficiency with computer servers that feature non-traditional chip architectures, announced today that it has raised $48 million to develop ARM-based servers. The funds come from a mix of VCs and technology companies, most notably ARM, which has a vested interest in seeing its low-power chips make inroads into the data center market — a market is growing at an alarming rate thanks, in part, to the rise of cloud computing. Other backers include, Advanced Technology Investment Company (ATIC), Battery Ventures, Flybridge Capital Partners, Highland Capital Partners and Texas Instruments, according to a company release.
Thanks to its newly padded coffers, Smooth-Stone plans to push through final development and commercialization of its servers, which takes an approach similar to SeaMicro and aggregates several mobile chips to create a high performance system that balances processing power and energy efficiency by balancing workloads among the many chips. Whereas SeaMicro uses Intel’s Atom netbook processor, Smooth-Stone has settled on the ARM micro-architecture, which is powering the lion’s share of today’s smartphones and a growing number of tablets and media consumption devices.
The timing couldn’t have been better. The funds will help Smooth-Stone cater to a market that is showing a willingness to explore energy efficient alternatives as their computational requirements explode, opening the door to server architectures that don’t fall into the norm. Smooth-Stone’s CEO, Barry Evans, said in a company statement, “Our goal is to completely remove power consumption as an issue for the data center.” It’s a bold goal, but also one that’s rooted in the stumbling blocks that are tripping up growing web firms (think Facebook and Twitter) and cloud providers. He adds, “They all deal with the reality that as the mass of information grows daily, so does their power consumption. Every day these companies are thinking about managing their data center sprawl.”
Helping big, server-reliant firms expand capacity while driving down energy costs sounds like a win-win, but it’s not all smooth sailing. The server startup faces stiff competition from Intel on two fronts. First is its tried and true server chips, a market it dominates. Secondly, it faces a threat from SeaMicro, which as mentioned earlier, employs Intel Atom processors. Making matters potentially thornier is SeaMicro’s code portability pitch. In short, all the x86 software an enterprise is accustomed to running will run natively on a SeaMicro system.
SeaMicro’s path of least resistance, which is paved by x86, is certainly a compelling one, but that doesn’t guarantee that IT giants aren’t willing to venture off-road a little. According to GigaOM’s Stacey Higginbotham, Smooth-Stone has already caught the attention of Microsoft, Cisco and Dell. Expect today’s funding news provides to propel the startup onto the watch lists of more IT firms and CIOs.