Calxeda finds a new market in storage

Calxeda, the Austin, Texas-based startup that is building out highly dense, low power ARM-based (S armh) servers has a new market in the storage world. During a visit last week to the company’s headquarters, company executives shared that in addition to web hosting and big data applications it sees a near-term opportunity in the storage world and that is has fielded more than 20 requests for proposals for systems using ARM-based processors.

Karl Freund, the VP of marketing for Calxeda, says the company has shipped about 3,000 nodes and 130 systems although none are deployed in production environments yet. He expects the first production deployments to occur at the end of the second quarter of 2013. But most of the conversation was about how ARM-based systems could be used today in the storage market. Not just for cold storage such as Amazon’s Glacier or Facebook’s photo storage effort, but even for the big storage systems for scale out storage and enterprise class storage appliances. Named customers who are evaluating the systems include, Gluster and Inktank, the storage startup backed by Mark Shuttleworth of Ubuntu fame that is commercializing Ceph.

There are more, notes Freund, (pictured) who says that when Calxeda servers make it into production environments, they will likely be deployed first in a storage capacity, as storage customers don’t care if the chips are 64-bit compatible. For now, ARM-based systems are stuck only able to address less memory because ARM only has a 32-bit capable core design. Next year ARM will have a 64-bit capable design and systems will be built around them in 2014 (maybe even late 2013). Calxeda plans its 64-bit capable SoC for 2014.

But Calxeda isn’t waiting and in storage, it’s also not focusing on power consumption — the initial draw for ARM-based servers in the scale out data center. For the storage world, where spinning hard drives tends to suck huge quantities of electricity, adding a low-power has a negligable affect on the consumption of an overall system. However, Calxeda boasts that popping in more of its systems on a chip (SoC) are both cheaper and make for faster information transfer and retrieval.

Its tests show roughly a 4X improvement in IOPs for a rack of Calxeda SoCs versus x86-based systems. Adding Calexeda’s SoCs also cuts complexity because the entire system of processing and networking components are integrated on the SoC, and the terabit-plus fabric between cores also offers more network capacity between cores in a system –the so-called east-west networking traffic.

As the market for scale out computing, storage and networking changes the demands made on IT equipment, Calxeda and others are seeing an opportunity that may have begun in servers and the cloud computing environment, but certainly isn’t stopping there. No wonder Intel (S intc) is trying to catch up with chips of its own. So far, it’s recently announced new Atom-based chips haven’t made the cut for most customers I’ve spoken with (the lack of integration of the entworking and processing hardware is a problem), but in 2014 it will have a new, integrated SoC as well. Then, the competition will really get interesting.