Can Samson slay Goliath? Taking its cue from the biblical tale of the underdog defeating the giant with a sling of a well-aimed rock,
, a startup based in Austin, Texas, is planning on disrupting the entire microchip industry.
a consortium of investors including
, and is attempting to make chips that can power corporate servers based on the ARM system, an alternative to the x86 chips currently produced by Intel and AMD.
Given the size of the server market (
), and the overwhelming trend toward moving more and more computing power into the cloud (AKA the realm of the server), getting a foothold into this market could become extremely big business.
ARM chips are more commonly known for being less powerful but more energy efficient - and therefore cooler - than their big x86 brothers, and are mainly found in mobile phones and other pieces of consumer electronics. Smooth-Stone thinks it can tweak this model and make a cheaper, more efficient chip that can still manage the heavy lifting of a server.
If they succeed, they will become an obvious acquisition target. Intel or AMD would obviously be interesting in snapping them up and snuffing an emerging competitor; so too would a major server maker like Dell, HP or Oracle. A wild card could even be companies like Google, Yahoo or Amazon, who operate massive global clouds of servers - why not skip the middleman entirely and make your own chips?
This is where Abu Dhabi's investment steps in.
ATIC already owns Globalfoundries, the world's second-largest
. semiconductor foundry company. Mubadala, another Abu Dhabi government vehicle, is the largest shareholder of AMD, which buys most of the chips produced by Globalfoundries. If Smooth-Stone is successful, it would make an obvious candidate to be merged into one of these two businesses. Chartered Semiconductor, the Singaporean chipmaker,
Alternatively, ATIC could link the chip designs done by Smooth-Stone to the manufacturing processes of its giant chip factories - if the company and its intellectual property are flipped to somebody like Google or HP, Globalfoundries could still do a healthy business as the maker of the chips.
It is also notable that other investors in this $48 million round include
. Clearly both these companies are interested in getting their foot in the door of any possible upside to Smooth-Stone, meaning ATIC is unlikely to have any special or exclusive rights to a future deal.
, including comments from Smooth-Stone's founder, Barry Evans. Well worth a read.
(Updated: in the comments, Adolfo pointed out correctly that Globalfoundries, the Mubadala owned semiconductor manufacturer, is not the world's second-largest maker of microchips, as I originally wrote. It is the second largest foundry company, meaning a dedicated manufacturer, not designer, of chips. The post has been corrected.)