Most of the big Internet tech companies design and build a lot of their own computer hardware, including Amazon, Facebook, Google.
Now Amazon is apparently trying to create its own home-grown computer server chips, according to job postings, new hires and some unnamed sources unearthed by Stacey Higginbotham at Gigaom.
That means it could be looking for a faster, cheaper, lower-power alternative to Intel’s chips. It would likely be using chip designs from UK-based ARM Holdings. ARM chips are the low-power CPUs that run your smartphone and tablet.
The first bit of evidence about Amazon’s plans was a job posting for a “CPU Architect / Micro-Architect” to join Amazon’s Silicon Optimization team based in Austin, Texas. That’s a person who designs chips. Since Gigaom published the job posting, Amazon has removed it.
But there’s other evidence that Amazon is creating its own chips. It hired several folks from Calxeda, the company that pioneered the concept of making corporate data center computers run on the same low-power ARM chips that power your smartphone. Sadly, Calxeda closed its doors last December.
Calxeda was working with Facebook to build an ARM-based server as part of Facebook’s Open Compute Project. OCP designs hardware and gives those designs away for free for anyone to use in their own data centres.
OCP has led to at least one startup working on an ARM server, a company called REX Computing, run by teenage engineering wizard Thomas Sohmers. Sohmers dropped out of high school to launch REX, after being accepted into Peter Thiel’s controversial startup accelerator, the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship.
We should point out that ARM chips aren’t the only way to build a fast, low-power computer server. Facebook is also working with AMD and Intel to build low-power servers, too. Meanwhile HP has already created such a server, called Moonshot. Dell also offers low-power servers.
But the ARM server is new and potentially huge, if some problems can be solved, like building enough software that will run on it.
With its hires from Calxeda, Amazon could be trying to solve those problems.
Unlike Facebook, Amazon is secretive about its hardware designs and doesn’t share them with the world.
So if Amazon succeeds, those servers could become its own secret sauce to run super fast cloud services while dropping prices, again.
Such a move would put pressure on other companies, namely Microsoft and Google, to find similar technologies. Everyone’s in a race match Amazon’s cloud prices.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.