Calxeda's Tough Battle was not ARM, but Intel's investment in a Fabric to reinvent servers

There is sadness in Calxeda’s lack of funding to continue its efforts on ARM servers.

Calxeda Closes Its Office: The Sad Story Of One Of The Most Innovative Companies In Years

But, over a year ago, I started to doubt whether Calxeda would survive.  I would chat with some server hardware folks and one of the ideas we would discuss is out of the 8+ companies out there with ARM chips there would eventually be only three who survive, and whether Calxeda would be one of them was not clear.  We had more faith in Samsung to be a player than many of the others.

Almost everyone focuses on ARM as if the ARM chip has magical powers that can beat the x86 chip once someone ships an ARM chip for servers.  ARM is just a chip.  x86 is a chip.  I decided to look for a recent paper that compares ARM vs. x86 and found this paper.

A Detailed Analysis of Contemporary ARM and x86 Architectures
Emily Blem, Jaikrishnan Menon, and Karthikeyan Sankaralingam
University of Wisconsin - Madison

The results show. (note: ISA is Instruction Set Architecture)

We find that ARM and x86 processors are simply engineering
design points optimized for different levels of performance, and
there is nothing fundamentally more energy efficient in one ISA
class or the other. The ISA being RISC or CISC seems irrelevant

So if ARM vs. x86 is irrelevant what was the battle to fight?  It is about creating a new Fabric for Servers.  Read the press statement from Calxeda.  Their first two paragraphs say Fabric.

Over the last few years, Calxeda has been a driving force in the industry for low power server processors and fabric-based computing.

The concept of a fabric of ARM-based servers challenging the industry giants was not on anyone¹s radar screen when we started this journey.

In April 2012 Intel announced it had licensed Cray’s supercomputing fabric.

Intel Acquires Industry-Leading, High-Performance Computing Interconnect Technology and Expertise

SANTA CLARA, Calif., April 24, 2012 – Intel Corporation today announced it has entered into a definitive agreement with Cray Inc. to acquire certain assets related to its high-performance computing (HPC) interconnect program. With the agreement, Intel gains access to Cray’s world-class interconnect personnel and intellectual property.


The Cray interconnect team is responsible for the award-winning Gemini interconnect as well as the upcoming Aries interconnect, designed to work in Cray’s next-generation  supercomputer, codenamed “Cascade,” which will integrate Intel® Xeon® processors. The transaction is expected to close before the end of the current quarter, subject to customary closing conditions being met.

Intel announced the C2000 Atom to go against ARM.  In this blog post I referenced posts on Barron’s blog by analyst who discussed the ARM vs. Atom.

There are probably many other small things that made it difficult for Calxeda.  It’s hard to be a disruptive force especially in Intel’s turf.