Liquid Laps Up $28M

Server startup eyes the high-performance possibilities in combining with storage

November 16, 2006

4 Min Read
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High-end server startup Liquid Computing, only recently out of stealth mode, picked up $27.7 million in Series B funding today as the firm looks to bolster its storage story. (See Liquid Computing Raises $27.7M.)

Last month, after two years in the development lab, Liquid Computing took the wraps off its flagship product -- a 26U-high server device called LiquidIQ. According to the startup's execs, LiquidIQ can deliver up to five times the bandwidth of an InfiniBand-based server, thanks to a proprietary "telecom-style" interconnect. Currently Liquid IQ offers up to 16 Gbyte/s of bandwidth although the startup expects to push it to 100 Gbyte/s within the next few years.

"We have built our own interconnect system to ensure that the load is spread across all the resources," explains Andy Church, Liquid Computing's vice president of marketing, who was unwilling to reveal too many specifics about the Linux-based product.

The exec, however, did confirm that Liquid Computing has built its own databoard, which fits onto the back of each of LiquidIQ's 20 compute modules. These modules slot into the device, and each contains four dual-core AMD Opteron processors. The databoard in turn connects with the processors' HyperTransport, a high bandwidth, low-latency technology developed by AMD. (See AMD Unveils New Chipset Design, HyperTransport Consortium Intros New Spec, and HyperTransport Consortium Adds Members.)

On the software side, Liquid Computing is using techniques called "zero copy" and "message splitting" borrowed from the telecom sector. Zero copy moves data from one memory space to another using minimal bandwidth, according to Church, while message splitting divides data packets and sends them out across available processors.But with new cash burning a hole in his pocket, Church is now looking to add storage to the startup's compute story. "We're going to use [the funding] to build out our product and add more partners," he said, adding that he already has some big-name storage vendors in his sights.

Specifically, Church is aiming to get the likes of DataDirect, EMC, and NetApp on board. Users, he told Byte and Switch are more likely to look favorably on a tightly coupled package of compute power and storage. The thinking is that such a combo will boost I/O performance and save users money. "Obviously, the closer we're working with major storage vendors, the more we can optimize code for their specific solution," he says.

Liquid Computing is certainly entering a tough market, where it competes both with traditional server vendors and high-performance computing specialists such as Cray and Silicon Graphics. (See SGI Surges in HPC, SGI Rediscovers NAS, and Big Ben Comes to Pittsburgh.)

"The biggest challenge for Liquid Computing is more behavioral then technological," says Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "Businesses tend to be more interested in spending money with vendors that they know," he explains, which makes a high profile storage partnership critical for the company's future.

Liquid Computing is also looking into the possibility of adding storage modules to the Liquid IQ product. "It's one of our long-term roadmap items," says Church, adding that the company has "considerable" work to do before it reaches that point.A number of vendors, including Sun, with its "Thumper" product, are starting to combine storage and servers within the same box as users look to shave their equipment costs. (See Sun Thumps Storage-Server Hybrid and Joyent.) HP, for example, recently added a storage blade to its c-Class chassis. (See Blades Cut Both Ways, HP Adds Storage Blade, HP Brandishes Blades, and HP Unveils Blade Design.)

At this point, 15 organizations are trialing LiquidIQ, although only one of these, the U.K-based, Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC) has been made public. Church told Byte and Switch that Liquid Computing is also working with firms in energy and financial services sectors.

In an effort to grow this customer base, the startup is expanding its operations in North America and Europe. The bulk of the company's 85 employees are based at the startup's HQ in Ottawa, with a handful in California, Texas, and New York.

Early next year, Church estimates that Liquid Computing will have around 145 employees, and the startup is already recruiting additional file engineers, customer support staff, and sales people. New offices will also be opened up, although the firm is yet to decide on exact locations, according to the exec.

The round, which involved VenGrowth, ATA Ventures, Business Development Bank of Canada, Export Development Canada, and Axis Investment Fund brings the startup's total funding to $41.7 million. (See Liquid Gets Moreso.)James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD)

  • ATA Ventures

  • Axis Investment Fund

  • Business Development Bank of Canada

  • Cray Inc. (Nasdaq: CRAY)

  • DataDirect Networks Inc.

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Export Development Canada

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • Liquid Computing Corp.

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • Pund-IT Inc.

  • SGI

  • Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW)

  • VenGrowth Investment Fund Inc.

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