Smooth-Stone is a start-up founded in January 2008 with lofty ambitions: to take on Intel where it's strongest - servers. Intel pretty much owns this market, with x86 chips taking an ever-greater share of the market and Intel dominating AMD even more than it does in PCs.
As business opportunities go, this would seem to be not a great one, until you consider that Smooth-Stone doesn't plan to get hold of an x86 license - as was made possible following Intel's settlement with the FTC - but use ARM architecture to make server chips that use loads less power than Intel ones.
Today, Smooth-Stone announced its endorsement by several technology companies and VCs to the tune of $48 million. Among the investors are ARM itself, chip partner Texas Instruments and ATIC - the sovereign investment fund of Abu Dhabi. In case you've forgotten ATIC is the company that bought AMD's fabs and is aiming to become the world's biggest semiconductor foundry, so that's some heavyweight backing.
"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. "We look forward to taking advantage of the insights and know-how of these industry-leading investors."
"Our goal is to completely remove power consumption as an issue for the data center. Imagine that change for companies with a large presence on the Internet. 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. We want to make sure that space and power are not constraining their potential."
There's no way ARM-based server chips are going to get anywhere near x86 ones in terms of raw processing power, but the business opportunity identified by Smooth-Stone (which derives its name from the David and Goliath story, according to an interview with the NYT) focuses on those many, relatively simple, server tasks that don't require much grunt.
Principally it's web-based tasks that are the focus, and the owners of vast data-centres - like Google, Microsoft and Facebook - that are the potential customers. The scale of the Internet means that power consumption is now a primary overhead, so an offering that promises to significantly reduce that would potentially have a lot of appeal.