Oct
29
2020
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More chip industry action as Marvell is acquiring Inphi for $10B

It’s been quite a time for chip industry consolidation, and today Marvell joined the acquisition parade when it announced it is acquiring Inphi in a combination of stock and cash valued at approximately $10 billion, according to the company.

Marvell CEO Matt Murphy believes that by adding Inphi, a chip maker that helps connect internal servers in cloud data centers, and then between data centers, using fiber cabling, it will complement Marvell’s copper-based chip portfolio and give it an edge in developing more future-looking use cases where Inphi shines.

“Our acquisition of Inphi will fuel Marvell’s leadership in the cloud and extend our 5G position over the next decade,” Murphy said in a statement.

In the classic buy versus build calculus, this acquisition uses the company’s cash to push it in new directions without having to build all this new technology. “This highly complementary transaction expands Marvell’s addressable market, strengthens customer base and accelerates Marvell’s leadership in hyperscale cloud data centers and 5G wireless infrastructure,” the company said in a statement.

It’s been a busy time for the chip industry as multiple players are combining, hoping for a similar kind of lift that Marvell sees with this deal. In fact, today’s announcement comes in the same week AMD announced it was acquiring Xilinx for $35 billion and follows Nvidia acquiring ARM for $40 billion last month. The three deals combined come to a whopping $85 billion.

There appears to be prevailing wisdom in the industry that by combining forces and using the power of the checkbook, these companies can do more together than they can by themselves.

Certainly Marvell and Inphi are suggesting that. As they highlighted, their combined enterprise value will be more than $40 billion, with hundreds of millions of dollars in market potential. All of this of course depends on how well these combined entities work together, and we won’t know that for some time.

For what it’s worth, the stock market appears unimpressed with the deal, with Marvell’s stock down more than 7% in early trading — but Inphi stock is being bolstered in a big way by the announcement, up almost 23% this morning so far.

The deal, which has been approved by both companies’ boards, is expected to close by the second half of 2021, subject to shareholder and regulatory approval.

Oct
26
2020
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Dropbox begins shift to high-efficiency Western Digital Shingled Magnetic Recording disks

Last year, Dropbox talked about making a shift to Shingled Magnetic Recording, or SMR disks for short, because of the efficiency they can give a high-volume storage platform like theirs. Today, Western Digital announced that Dropbox was one of the first companies to qualify their Ultrastar® DC HC650 20TB host-managed SMR hard disks.

Dropbox’s modern infrastructure story goes back to 2017, when it decided to shift most of its business from being hosted on AWS to building their own infrastructure. As they moved through the process of making that transition in the following years, they were looking for new storage technology ideas to help drive down the cost of running their own massive storage system.

As principal engineer James Cowling told TechCrunch last year, one of the ideas that emerged was using SMR:

What emerged was SMR, which has high storage density and a lower price point. Moving to SMR gave Dropbox the ability to do more with less, increasing efficiency and lowering overall costs — an essential step for a company trying to do this on its own. “It required expertise obviously, but it was also exciting to bring a lot of efficiencies in terms of cost and storage efficiency, while pulling down boundaries between software and hardware,” Cowling said.

As it turns out, Dropbox VP of engineering Andrew Fong says that the company has been working with Western Digital for a number of years and the new SMR technology is the latest step in that partnership.

Western Digital says these drives deliver this cost savings through increased storage density and lower power requirements. “When considering exabyte-scale needs, and associated capital and operating cost of the data center, the long-term value in terms of lower cost-per-TB, higher density, low power and high reliability can help benefit the bottom line,” the company said in a statement.

Time will tell if these disks deliver as promised, but they certainly show a lot of potential for a high-volume user like Dropbox.

Sep
28
2020
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Skydio partners with EagleView for autonomous residential roof inspections via drone

Skydio only just recently announced its expansion into the enterprise and commercial market with hardware and software tools for its autonomous drone technology, and now it’s taking the lid off a brand new big partnership with one commercial partner. Skydio will work with EagleView to deploy automated residential roof inspections using Skydio drones, with service initially provide via EagleView’s Assess product, launching first in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area of Texas.

The plan is to expand coverage to additional metro areas starting next year, and then broaden to rural customers as well. The partners will use AI-based analysis, paired with Skydio’s high-resolution, precision imaging to provide roofing status information to insurance companies, claims adjustment companies and government agencies, providing a new level of quality and accuracy for property inspections that don’t even require an in-person roof inspection component.

Skydio announced its enterprise product expansion in July, alongside a new $100 million funding round. The startup, which has already delivered two generations of its groundbreaking fully autonomous consumer drone, also debuted the X2, a commercial drone that includes additional features like a thermal imaging camera. It’s also offering a suite of “enterprise skills,” software features that can provide its partners with automated workflows and AI analysis and processing, including a House Scan feature for residential roof inspection, which is core to this new partnership.

Sep
24
2020
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NUVIA raises $240M from Mithril to make climate-ready enterprise chips

Climate change is on everyone’s minds these days, what with the outer Bay Area on fire, orange skies above San Francisco, and a hurricane season that is bearing down on the East Coast with alacrity (and that’s just the United States in the past two weeks).

A major — and growing — source of those emissions is data centers, the cloud infrastructure that powers most of our devices and experiences. That’s led to some novel ideas, such as Microsoft’s underwater data center Project Natick, which just came back to the surface for testing a bit more than a week ago.

Yet, for all the fun experiments, there is a bit more of an obvious solution: just make the chips more energy efficient.

That’s the thesis of NUVIA, which was founded by three ex-Apple chip designers who led the design of the “A” series chip line for the company’s iPhones and iPads for years. Those chips are wicked fast within a very tight energy envelope, and NUVIA’s premise is essentially what happens when you take those sorts of energy constraints (and the experience of its chip design team) and apply them to the data center.

We did a deep profile of the company last year when it announced its $53 million Series A, so definitely read that to understand the founding story and the company’s mission. Now about one year later, it’s coming back to us with news of a whole bunch of more funding.

NUVIA announced today that it has closed on a $240 million Series B round led by Mithril Capital, with a bunch of others involved listed below.

Since we last chatted with the company, we now have a bit more detail of what it’s working on. It has two products under development, a system-on-chip (SoC) unit dubbed “Orion” and a CPU core dubbed “Phoenix.” The company previewed a bit of Phoenix’s performance last month, although as with most chip companies, it is almost certainly too early to make any long-term predictions about how the technology will settle in with existing and future chips coming to the market.

NUVIA’s view is that chips are limited to about 250-300 watts of power given the cooling and power constraints of most data centers. As more cores become common pre chip, each core is going to have to make do with less power availability while maintaining performance. NUVIA’s tech is trying to solve that problem, lowering total cost of ownership for data center operators while also improving overall energy efficiency.

There’s a lot more work to be done of course, so expect to see more product announcements and previews from the company as it gets its technology further finalized. With $240 million more dollars in the bank though, it certainly has the resources to make some progress.

Shortly after we chatted with the company last year, Apple sued company founder and CEO Gerald Williams III for breach of contract, with the company arguing that its former chip designer was trying to poach employees for his nascent startup. Williams counter-sued earlier this year, and the two parties are now in the discovery phase of their lawsuit, which remains ongoing.

In addition to lead Mithril, the round was done “in partnership with” the founders of semiconductor giant Marvell (Sehat Sutardja and Weili Dai), funds managed by BlackRock, Fidelity, and Temasek, plus Atlantic Bridge and Redline Capital along with Series A investors Capricorn Investment Group, Dell Technologies Capital, Mayfield, Nepenthe LLC, and WRVI Capital.

Sep
14
2020
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Quantum startup CEO suggests we are only five years away from a quantum desktop computer

Today at TechCrunch Disrupt 2020, leaders from three quantum computing startups joined TechCrunch editor Frederic Lardinois to discuss the future of the technology. IonQ CEO and president Peter Chapman suggested we could be as little as five years away from a desktop quantum computer, but not everyone agreed on that optimistic timeline.

“I think within the next several years, five years or so, you’ll start to see [desktop quantum machines]. Our goal is to get to a rack-mounted quantum computer,” Chapman said.

But that seemed a tad optimistic to Alan Baratz, CEO at D-Wave Systems. He says that when it comes to developing the super-conducting technology that his company is building, it requires a special kind of rather large quantum refrigeration unit called a dilution fridge, and that unit would make a five-year goal of having a desktop quantum PC highly unlikely.

Itamar Sivan, CEO at Quantum Machines, too, believes we have a lot of steps to go before we see that kind of technology, and a lot of hurdles to overcome to make that happen.

“This challenge is not within a specific, singular problem about finding the right material or solving some very specific equation, or anything. It’s really a challenge, which is multidisciplinary to be solved here,” Sivan said.

Chapman also sees a day when we could have edge quantum machines, for instance on a military plane, that couldn’t access quantum machines from the cloud efficiently.

“You know, you can’t rely on a system which is sitting in a cloud. So it needs to be on the plane itself. If you’re going to apply quantum to military applications, then you’re going to need edge-deployed quantum computers,” he said.

One thing worth mentioning is that IonQ’s approach to quantum is very different from D-Wave’s and Quantum Machines’ .

IonQ relies on technology pioneered in atomic clocks for its form of quantum computing. Quantum Machines doesn’t build quantum processors. Instead, it builds the hardware and software layer to control these machines, which are reaching a point where that can’t be done with classical computers anymore.

D-Wave, on the other hand, uses a concept called quantum annealing, which allows it to create thousands of qubits, but at the cost of higher error rates.

As the technology develops further in the coming decades, these companies believe they are offering value by giving customers a starting point into this powerful form of computing, which when harnessed will change the way we think of computing in a classical sense. But Sivan says there are many steps to get there.

“This is a huge challenge that would also require focused and highly specialized teams that specialize in each layer of the quantum computing stack,” he said. One way to help solve that is by partnering broadly to help solve some of these fundamental problems, and working with the cloud companies to bring quantum computing, however they choose to build it today, to a wider audience.

“In this regard, I think that this year we’ve seen some very interesting partnerships form which are essential for this to happen. We’ve seen companies like IonQ and D-Wave, and others partnering with cloud providers who deliver their own quantum computers through other companies’ cloud service,” Sivan said. And he said his company would be announcing some partnerships of its own in the coming weeks.

The ultimate goal of all three companies is to eventually build a universal quantum computer, one that can achieve the goal of providing true quantum power. “We can and should continue marching toward universal quantum to get to the point where we can do things that just can’t be done classically,” Baratz said. But he and the others recognize we are still in the very early stages of reaching that end game.

Jul
15
2020
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Zoom introduces all-in-one home communications appliance for $599

Zoom has become the de facto standard for online communications during the pandemic, but the company has found that it’s still a struggle for many employees to set up the equipment and the software to run a meeting effectively. The company’s answer is an all-in-one communications appliance with Zoom software ready to roll in a simple touch interface.

The device, dubbed the Zoom for Home – DTEN ME, is being produced by partner DTEN. It consists of a standalone 27-inch screen, essentially a large tablet equipped with three wide-angle cameras designed for high-resolution video and 8 microphones. Zoom software is pre-loaded on the device and the interface is designed to provide easy access to popular Zoom features.

Zoom for Home – DTEN ME with screen sharing on. Image Credits: Zoom

Jeff Smith, head of Zoom Rooms, says that the idea is to offer an appliance that you can pull out of the box and it’s ready to use with minimal fuss. “Zoom for Home is an initiative from Zoom that allows any Zoom user to deploy a personal collaboration device for their video meetings, phone calls, interactive whiteboard annotation — all the good stuff that you want to do on Zoom, you can do with a dedicated purpose-built device,” Smith told TechCrunch.

He says this is designed with simplicity in mind, so that you pull it out of the box and launch the interface by entering a pairing code on a website on your laptop or mobile phone. Once the interface appears, you simply touch the function you want, such as making a phone call or starting a meeting, and it connects automatically.

Image Credits: Zoom

You can link it to your calendar so that all your meetings appear in a sidebar, and you just touch the next meeting to connect. If you need to share your screen it includes ultrasonic pairing between the appliance and your laptop or mobile phone. This works like Bluetooth, but instead of sending out a radio signal, it sends out a sound between 18 and 22 kHz, which most people can’t hear, to connect the two devices, Smith said.

Smith says Zoom will launch with two additional partners, including the Neat Bar and the Poly Studio X Series, and could add other partners in the future.

The DTEN appliance will cost $599 and works with an existing Zoom license. The company is taking pre-orders and the devices are expected to ship next month.

Jul
13
2020
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Analog Devices to acquire rival chipmaker Maxim Integrated for $21 billion

Analog Devices didn’t waste any time kicking off the week with a bang when it announced this morning it was acquiring rival chipmaker Maxim Integrated Products for $20.91 billion (according to multiple reports). The company had a market cap of $17.09 billion as of Friday’s close.

The deal, which has already been approved by both company’s boards, would create a chip making behemoth worth $68 billion, according to Analog. The idea behind the transaction is that bigger is better and the combined companies will increase Analog’s revenue by $8.2 billion.

What’s more, the two companies should combine well in that there isn’t much overlap in their businesses. Maxim’s strength is in the automotive and data center spaces, while Analog is more concentrated in industrial and healthcare.

Vincent Roche, president and CEO of ADI, was enthusiastic about the potential of the combined organizations. “ADI and Maxim share a passion for solving our customers’ most complex problems, and with the increased breadth and depth of our combined technology and talent, we will be able to develop more complete, cutting-edge solutions,” he said in a statement.

Maxim was founded back in 1983 and went public in 1988. It made nine acquisitions between 2002 and 2013, with the most recent being Voltera in 2013, according to Crunchbase data.

As with all deals of this sort, it needs to pass regulator muster first, but the companies expect the deal to close by next summer.

Jul
07
2020
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Zoom announces new Hardware as a Service offering to run on ServiceNow

Zoom announced a new Hardware as a Service offering today that will run on the ServiceNow platform. At the same time, the company announced a deal with ServiceNow to standardize on Zoom and Zoom Phone for its 11,000 employees in another case of SaaS cooperation.

For starters, the new Hardware as a Service offering allows customers, who use the Zoom Phone and Zoom Rooms software, to acquire related hardware from the company for a fixed monthly cost. The company announced that initial solutions providers will include DTEN, Neat, Poly and Yealink.

The new service allows companies to access low-cost hardware and pay for the software and hardware on a single invoice. This could result in lower up-front costs, while simplifying the bookkeeping associated with a customer’s online communications options.

Companies can start small if they wish, then add additional hardware over time as needs change, and they can also opt for a fully managed service, where a third party can deal with installation and management of the hardware if that’s what a customer requires.

Zoom will run the new service on ServiceNow’s Now platform, which provides a way to manage the service requests as they come in. And in a case of one SaaS hand washing the other, ServiceNow has standardized on the Zoom platform for its internal communications tool, which has become increasingly important as the pandemic has moved employees to work from home. The company also plans to replace its current phone system with Zoom Phones.

One of the defining characteristics of SaaS companies, and a major difference from previous generations of tech companies, has been the willingness of these organizations to work together to string together sets of services when it makes sense. These kinds of partnerships not only benefit the companies involved, they tend to be a win for customers too.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, sees this as a deal between two rising SaaS stars, and one that benefits both companies. “Everyone and their mother is announcing partnerships with Zoom, focusing on integrating video communications into core focus areas. But this partnership looks to be much more substantial than most, with ServiceNow not only partnering with Zoom for tighter video communication capabilities, but also displacing its current phone system with Zoom Phone,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Jun
23
2020
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Ampere announces latest chip with a 128-core processor

In the chip game, more is usually better, and to that end, Ampere announced the next chip on its product roadmap today, the Altra Max, a 128-core processor the company says is designed specifically to handle cloud-native, containerized workloads.

What’s more, the company has designed the chip so that it will fit in the same slot as their 80-core product announced last year (and in production now). That means that engineers can use the same slot when designing for the new chip, which saves engineering time and eases production, says Jeff Wittich, VP of products at the company.

Wittich says that his company is working with manufacturers today to make sure they can build for all of the requirements for the more powerful chip. “The reason we’re talking about it now, versus waiting until Q4 when we’ve got samples going out the door is because it’s socket compatible, so the same platforms that the Altra 80 core go into, this 128-core product can go into,” he said.

He says that containerized workloads, video encoding, large scale out databases and machine learning inference will all benefit from having these additional cores.

While he wouldn’t comment on any additional funding, the company has raised $40 million, according to Crunchbase data, and Wittich says they have enough funding to go into high-volume production on their existing products later this year.

Like everyone, the company has faced challenges keeping a consistent supply chain throughout the pandemic, but when it started to hit in Asia at the beginning of this year, the company set a plan in motion to find backup suppliers for the parts they would need should they run into pandemic-related shortages. He says that it took a lot of work, planning and coordination, but they feel confident at this point in being able to deliver their products in spite of the uncertainty that exists.

“Back in January we actually already went through [our list of suppliers], and we diversified our supply chain and made sure that we had options for everything. So we were able to get in front of that before it ever became a problem,” he said.

“We’ve had normal kinds of hiccups here and there that everyone’s had in the supply chain, where things get stuck in shipping and they end up a little bit late, but we’re right on schedule with where we were.”

The company is already planning ahead for its 2022 release, which is in development. “We’ve got a test chip running through five nanometer right now that has the key IP and some of the key features of that product, so that we can start testing those out in silicon pretty soon,” he said.

Finally, the company announced that it’s working with some new partners, including Cloudflare, Packet (which was acquired by Equinix in January), Scaleway and Phoenics Electronics, a division of Avnet. These partnerships provide another way for Ampere to expand its market as it continues to develop.

The company was founded in 2017 by former Intel president Renee James.

Jun
04
2020
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Nanox, maker of a low-cost scanning service to replace X-rays, expands Series B to $51M

A lot of the attention in medical technology today has been focused on tools and innovations that might help the world better fight the COVID-19 global health pandemic. Today comes news of another startup that is taking on some funding for a disruptive innovation that has the potential to make both COVID-19 as well as other kinds of clinical assessments more accessible.

Nanox, a startup out of Israel that has developed a small, low-cost scanning system and “medical screening as a service” to replace the costly and large machines and corresponding software typically used for X-rays, CAT scans, PET scans and other body imaging services, is today announcing that it has raised $20 million from a strategic investor, South Korean carrier SK Telecom.

SK Telecom in turn plans to help distribute physical scanners equipped with Nanox technology as well as resell the pay-per-scan imaging service, branded Nanox.Cloud, and corresponding 5G wireless network capacity to operate them. Nanox currently licenses its tech to big names in the imaging space, like FujiFilm, and Foxconn is also manufacturing its donut-shaped Nanox.Arc scanners.

The funding is technically an extension of Nanox’s previous round, which was announced earlier this year at $26 million with backing from Foxconn, FujiFilm and more. Nanox says that the full round is now closed off at $51 million, with the company having raised $80 million since launching almost a decade ago, in 2011.

Nanox’s valuation is not being publicly disclosed, but a news report in the Israeli press from December said that one option the startup was considering was an IPO at a $500 million valuation. We understand from sources that the valuation is about $100 million higher now.

The Nanox system is based around proprietary technology related to digital X-rays. Digital radiography is a relatively new area in the world of imaging that relies on digital scans rather than X-ray plates to capture and process images.

Nanox says the ARC comes in at 70 kg versus 2,000 kg for the average CT scanner, and production costs are around $10,000 compared to $1-3 million for the CT scanner.

But in addition to being smaller (and thus cheaper) machines with much of the processing of images done in the cloud, the Nanox system, according to CEO and founder Ran Poliakine, can make its images in a tiny fraction of a second, making them significantly safer in terms of radiation exposure compared to existing methods.

Imaging has been in the news a lot of late because it has so far been one of the most accurate methods for detecting the progress of COVID-19 in patients or would-be patients in terms of how it is affecting patients’ lungs and other organs. While the dissemination of equipment like Nanox’s definitely could play a role in handling those cases better, the ultimate goal of the startup is much wider than that.

Ultimately, the company hopes to make its devices and cloud-based scanning service ubiquitous enough that it would be possible to run early detection, preventative scans for a much wider proportion of the population.

“What is the best way to fight cancer today? Early detection. But with two-thirds of the world without access to imaging, you may need to wait weeks and months for those scans today,” said Poliakine.

The startup’s mission is to distribute some 15,000 of its machines over the next several years to bridge that gap, and it’s getting there through partnerships. In addition to the SK Telecom deal it’s announcing today, last March, Nanox inked a $174 million deal to distribute 1,000 machines across Australia, New Zealand and Norway in partnership with a company called the Gateway Group.

The SK Telecom investment is an interesting development that underscores how carriers see 5G as an opportunity to revisit what kinds of services they resell and offer to businesses and individuals, and SK Telecom specifically has singled out healthcare as one obvious and big opportunity.

“Telecoms carriers are looking for opportunities around how to sell 5G,” said Ilung Kim, SK Telecom’s president, in an interview. “Now you can imagine a scanner of this size being used in an ambulance, using 5G data. It’s a game changer for the industry.”

Looking ahead, Nanox will continue to ink partnerships for distributing its hardware and reselling its cloud-based services for processing the scans, but Poliakine said it does not plan to develop its own technology beyond that to gain insights from the raw data. For that, it’s working with third parties — currently three AI companies — that plug into its APIs, and it plans to add more to the ecosystem over time.

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