SilverStorm Gathers Cash

InfiniBand startup gets $13M as it prepares to roll out 20-Gbit/s gear

January 11, 2006

3 Min Read
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Another sign that InfiniBand could yet become a hot technology: SilverStorm Technologies, a startup often overlooked in the InfiniBand space, picked up $13 million today in the first significant storage funding of the year. (See SilverStorm Grabs $13M.)

CEO Russ Hawkins says the startup will use a good chunk of the money to beef up marketing -- a good idea, considering SilverStorms low name recognition compared to rivals such as Cisco and even fellow startup Voltaire.

Perhaps the poor name recognition is because SilverStorm was known as InfiniCon before its renaming last May. The name change reflected SilverStorm’s attempt to move beyond InfiniBand, a technology then still largely the domain of high performance computing (HPC).

But that was also around the time Cisco was wrapping up its $250 million purchase of SilverStorm rival Topspin, in one of the reasons often cited for InfiniBand’s bit of a resurgence in late 2005. (See Cisco Takes On Topspin and InfiniBand Gets Second Looks.) Engenio and DataDirect Networks have since rolled out native InfiniBand systems, and InfiniBand’s clustering capabilities make it a good fit for the emergence of clustered computing. (See Cluster Clamor and InfiniBand Natives Stirring.)

Although his company’s new name isn’t as closely linked with InfiniBand anymore, Hawkins says he’s bullish on the technology. But SilverStorm hasn’t abandoned plans to move into other high speed interconnect products when the time is right.“One of the reasons we changed the name is we’re looking closely at other interconnect technologies, and our capabilities go beyond InfiniBand,” Hawkins says.

Hawkins says iWarp is one of the technologies SilverStorm is watching closely, but he believes software interoperability issues and high prices will keep it out of mainstream computing before late 2008.

Meanwhile, SilverStorm is charging hard on InfiniBand, with plans to launch a double data rate (DDR) InfiniBand 20-Gbit/s switch this quarter. The new funding will be used in part for the product launch, and a marketing blitz may be necessary considering Cisco and Voltaire already have their DDR switches out. (See Voltaire Doubles Up and Cisco Launches Products.)

One user who shares Hawkins’ enthusiasm for InfiniBand -- John Welter, VP of operations for Canadian aerial mapping firm North West Geomatics Ltd. -- brings bad news and good news for SilverStorm. The bad news is Welter, who runs a DataDirect InfiniBand system in his shop, drew a blank when asked about SilverStorm.

“Never heard of them, to be honest,” says Welter, who uses a Mellanox InfiniBand chipset embedded in the system.The good news: He thinks InfiniBand has a bright future now that DDR is here.

“InfiniBand does have a roadmap for the future,” Welter says. “Once people deploy InfiniBand, they’ll just upgrade to DDR and then QDR [quad data rate], and they’re not going to start yanking it out to use other interconnects.”

Kevin Shinpaugh, Director of Research and Cluster Computing at Virginia Tech, has heard of SilverStorm. He upgraded to its switches last November for a 12 teraflop 1,100-node Apple-based system that ranks No. 20 on the fastest supercomputers list.

Shinpaugh says SilverStorm would do something the other InfiniBand switch vendors could not do – support Apple Mac OS X. “We needed a vendor that would support OS X, and the others could not, or weren’t interested in supporting it,” Shinpaugh says.

SilverStorm also sells InfiniBand gateways, host card adapters (HCAs), and management software. Hawkins says his company has more than 250 customers and forecasts profitability by the end of the year. He says the company will also beef up engineering and manufacturing with the funding.SilverStorm has acquired $20 million over two funding rounds since Hawkins joined as CEO in August 2004. The startup received $48 million in three rounds when it was known as InfiniCon.

Core Capital Partners led the funding round, with Axiom Venture Partners and previous investors Bay Partners and Castile Venture Partners participating.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Axiom Venture Partners

  • Bay Partners

  • Castile Ventures

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

  • Core Capital Partners

  • Mellanox Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: MLNX)

  • North West Geomatics

  • SilverStorm Technologies Inc.

  • Virginia Tech University

  • Voltaire Inc.

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