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September 7, 2007

ClearSpeed Technology Takes Flight

by Tiffany Trader

Earlier this week, ClearSpeed Technologies, maker of floating-point accelerator boards, signed an agreement with defense and aerospace company BAE Systems licensing the design of ClearSpeed’s next-generation processor to be used in BAE’s satellite systems. With the agreement, BAE will also have access to ClearSpeed’s software development kit.

This marks ClearSpeed’s foray into the embedded space, and may signal a change of strategy for the company, who has up until now been purely a board vendor. They are taking their ability to meet the compute-intensive demands of HPC and extending it into the even more rigorous demands of the embedded world.

According to ClearSpeed CEO Tom Beese, it was a combination of factors that sealed the deal for BAE, notably their need for accuracy, performance, power efficiency and programmability. BAE’s primary requirement was to crunch high volumes of data in a power-constrained environment. In this type of environment, an approach using x86 processors or any commodity CPU chips would likely have been insufficient.

As the director of Advanced Digital Systems for BAE, George Nossaman, stated in ClearSpeed’s press release, “To deploy and achieve sustained operation of systems in space sets the most challenging requirements.”

BAE is licensing the technology, building their own customized hardware from ClearSpeed designs. To accommodate the harsh environment of space, where high levels of radiation and extreme temperatures are common, BAE will develop a ruggedized version of the ClearSpeed hardware. According to Beese, there will be incidental purchases of ClearSpeed’s own boards, to facilitate development and testing.

The technology will be used for a variety of needs, not just one specific application, Beese said. This might turn out to be anything from intelligence gathering to weather monitoring. We don’t know which particular agencies will be involved, but Beese noted it’s reasonable to conclude that the technology will be used in the U.S. and Europe.

So is this a sign of things to come for ClearSpeed? Beese seems to think so, calling the agreement a “clear indication that our technology is relevant for the general embedded space.” He also added that ClearSpeed hopes to have a continued partnership with BAE.

In the traditional HPC market, ClearSpeed faces some tough competition from more high volume solutions such as FPGAs, GPUs and the Cell processor. Branching out into more specialized applications in the embedded arena seems like a good move for the company and gives them the opportunity to get a foothold in related markets.

Beese echoed this sentiment:

“Meeting the intense emerging needs in HPC does apply to others in a wider market and therefore, in a sense, reinforces what’s happening in HPC.”

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