Fulcrum Microsystems creates alliance for partners and raises $29 million round

Fulcrum Microsystems has created an alliance for its partners to adopt its chips more quickly and has raised $29.2 million in venture capital.

The Calabasas, Calif., chip company has now raised nearly $100 million in five rounds since its founding in 2000. That’s a big chunk of change and it has been able to do so because its esoteric chip architecture has paid off, said Mike Zeile, vice president of marketing, in an interview. The result are faster, low-power chips that are useful in networking and storage equipment in data centers.

The company uses a form of computing dubbed “asynchronous,” a technology invented by its founders — Uri Cummings and Andrew Lines — while they were at Caltech. That means the chips are unlike others in that they have no crystal clock that keeps the timing consistent throughout the chip. Rather, the components on the chips can operate on their own at faster speeds and are synchronized or coordinated only as needed.

At first, it was a struggle to prove that the asynchronous technology could work. Fulcrum had to adapt its designs so they could work in the most modern chip factories. When it launched its first Pivot Point chip in 2004, customers didn’t quite know what to do with it.

“We had a hammer and we used it for everything,” Zeile said.

Then it adopted a hybrid approach that combined both asynchronous and synchronous components on the same chip, Zeile said. The chips have found homes in high-speed communications equipment in enterprise data centers as well as devices at the network’s edge.

Today, at the Interop show in Las Vegas, Fulcrum announced its ControlPoint Developer Alliance with nine companies to enable communications equipment providers to create switching technologies with Fulcrum’s chips more easily. The companies include Continuous Computing, Green Hills Software, Liquid Computing, Nimbus Data Systems, Open Grid Computing, Panasas, Quadrics, SMC Networks and XORP. Zeile said this will create an ecosystem that will improve chip adoption.

“We give them off-the-shelf software so they can get up and running,” Zeile said.

The investors include Granite Ventures, Infinity Capital, New Enterprise Associates, Palomar Ventures, and Worldview Technology Partners. Also included is an unnamed strategic investor.

The company has 65 employees. It has more than 80 designs under way at 50 or 60 customers. Its primary competitor is Broadcom, which makes synchronous-only chips.

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