Tilera – Let Loose the Press Releases!

There’s been so much being said about Tilera over the last couple of days. Almost None of it dealt with the juicy facts we would like to hear. I’ve been doing some digging and managed to find out some details about the company. Before I get on to that though, I’ll do an in-depth review of the architecture:

It’s a homogeneous array of lightweight microprocessor cores with nearest neighbor interconnect. Oh, and a great programming environment too. Probably. And customers are begging for it. Oh god they are, why I heard that when they announced the chip was shipping, a crowd surrounded Tilera HQ in Menlo Park. The staff had to lock themselves in while desperate purchasers clawed at windows and doors until their fingers bled. They were chanting slogans like “The microprocessor is the new transistor!”, “Double our cores!” and “Freebird!”. They say a travelling salesman in Texas gave his teenage daughter in exchange for just ten of these wonderful devices.

Hmm… Enough of that craziness, let’s get down to brass tacks:

This article tells us that Tilera have $40m in funding. From this press release and this one, we learn that Tilera have managed to round up virtually all of this $40m in the last eight months. It seems though that they got some money in 2004.

Rob Chandra, a managing partner at “Bessemer Venture Partners”, invested in 2004, juding by what’s here. I guess this must’ve been the funding they used just to get funding.

Columbia Capital apparently led the Series B financing, that’s the most recent one that landed them $20m.

The archicture comes from RAW processor work done at MIT starting over a decade ago.

So what you have is a ten-year old academic project to which $40m, eight months and a marketing team have been added.

My questions to you regarding Tilera are these:

  • Do you believe that a start-up company with $40m can get to where they claim to be in eight months?
  • Do you believe that a startup can emerge with an architecture that has never been proven in battle and succeed, using only a $40m war chest?
  • How much of this $40m do you think is being spent on marketing, given the hype that is being generated?
  • Do you believe that this company has been able to develop a massively-multicore software development environment that is robust and productive, when that is generally recognised to be the grand challenge of our age?
  • Do you think it might be possible that the investors are hoping to pump Tilera up, then transfer ownership to the smal investor via an IPO, à la Mathstar?

I mean, I know that TSMC, Tilera’s fab, are involved in the investment somewhere along the line, so that might lead to a saving in fab costs. But can you even fab a chip for $40m these days, never mind run a company and fab a chip? Barry West of AMI semiconductor says

Estimates for the total cost of developing a complex 90nm ASIC are between $20-$30 million.

And they could be expected to be higher for a 65nm process! So they’ve just about got the money to squeeze out a chip, but what about all their other expenses. What about software development?

To cut a long story short, Tilera are selling us a very implausible tale. It’s too early to conclude of course. Nevertheless, if I were a betting man (and the Lord knows I am) I would bet on Tilera’s eventual failure.

Update:

It wouldn’t be easy to disagree with the points Joe from scalability makes here. He’s right that not being IA isn’t as critical in Tilera’s targeted markets.

There’s a bit more information here:

According to this there are presently 10 customers.

On the subject of the funding, I think it was noted with surprise how soon it was after series A funding that they secured series B funding, something like a month. Anyway, I’m working from press releases here, so if anyone knows more, then please share :-)

I’ll hold my tongue for now though till I see more new information

Update:

This article from Jon Stokes at arstechnica is a good overview, highlighting the fact that the chips are 90nm.

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6 Comments »

  1. […] at Accelerated Times, an article was posted about the Tilera. Now I haven’t heard much about Tilera, other than […]

  2. Karl said

    Interesting analysis, but most links in the article seem to be broken (they all point to http://scalability.org/?p=382)

    -K

  3. Rod said

    They were chanting slogans like “The microprocessor is the new transistor!”, “Double our cores!” and “Freebird!”.

    Oh, that’s funny. I used the Freebird line on a coworker just the other day.

    If its press releases reflect the whole financing story, Sicortex ran on $42M from inception in September 2004, up until it acquired the PathScale business in late July, coincident with raising $10M of venture debt. So, unless there was a hidden pool of money that Sicortex siphoned in along with its announced funding, the company developed both silicon and systems from zip for about $42M.

    Now, having said that, note that Sicortex is run by computer company veterans. The three co-founders are DEC alumni. So is the VP of engineering. Among them, management principals have experience from Cisco, NEC, Intel, Conpaq and Thinking Machines (don’t hold that against them) and a few others. I would expect the DEC and Cisco guys to run a tight ship, and those with Thinking Machines experience to have learned the perils of spenthriftery.

    Given that it usually takes more than one spin to get hardware right, I’d say eight months is a shockingly short time from paper to package. But Agarwal has been working on the design, according to this article, since 1996, and Tilera was founded in 2004, so I imagine the bulk of the design work was done before major funding materialized.

    As for whether “this company has been able to develop a massively-multicore software development environment that is robust and productive,” I can’t imagine it has.

  4. […] company reportedly has 10 customers so far, but not everyone is ready to buy the early market […]

  5. theaccelerator said

    Hmm… Thanks for the heads up on the broken links. I can’t figure out how that happened.

  6. Ihab Bishara said

    Hi, theaccelerator

    I read your recent blog posting about our launch and wanted to write a quick note to clarify some of the issues you raised.

    With regard to funding, the SiliconTap article is incorrect. We closed our series B funding in Q1 of this year. Our series A funding closed in 2004, when the company was established.

    As to your questions about how fast we have gotten up and running, on one hand, we have worked very hard for almost three years in stealth mode on the development of the hardware and software. On the other hand, this technology has been a long time coming. The Tilera technology is a direct product of a decade of research done at MIT known as the Raw project and many of the architectural concepts used in the TILE64 processor were verified in the Raw silicon back in 2002, as Rod pointed out.

    As to your question on the size of the marketing effort, I find your comment very gratifying. Our marketing staff consists of two internal people and a two-person PR firm (SiliconPR). We spent a very modest sum on the launch, but we succeeded because we have a good story.

    In terms of whether Tilera is telling a plausible story, or whether our software really works, obviously the only true test is time. I can say this: the input we are getting from our customers backs our claims.

    It is amazing technology and I don’t blame anyone for having initial doubts – it’s a huge leap forward in processor technology and I firmly believe that the tile approach will change the entire industry. This is a disruptive technology and the game is changing.

    If you have more questions shoot me an email or call me up and I’d be happy to talk to you about more. Better yet, stop by our headquarters, which is in Santa Clara, and I’ll show you a demo.

    Ihab Bishara
    Director of Marketing
    Tilera Corporation

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