Intel buys Fulcrum to further datacenter product push

Contact: Thejeswi Venkatesh, Ben Kolada

In a move that further boosts its 10-Gigabit Ethernet push, Intel has announced that it will acquire Fulcrum Microsystems, a fabless semiconductor company that developed the fully integrated FocalPoint family of 10Gb and 40Gb Ethernet switch chips. The acquisition advances Intel’s desire to transform itself into a comprehensive datacenter provider that offers computing, storage and networking building blocks.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, though we estimate that Fulcrum generated about $13m in revenue in the 12 months before its sale. For a comparable transaction, we could look to Broadcom’s November 2009 acquisition of Dune Networks for about 3 times trailing sales, or twice the median for all semiconductor design deals announced so far this year. However, given Fulcrum’s strategic importance to Intel, we wouldn’t be surprised if its valuation is not only higher than the median, but also surpasses Dune’s. We would also note that Intel already had an insider’s view into Fulcrum – its venture investment arm, Intel Capital, provided mezzanine financing to Fulcrum in 2010.

Connecting thousands of nodes at maximum bandwidth is the holy grail of datacenter networking. Fulcrum’s FocalPoint portfolio provides high-performance, low-latency network switches to support evolving cloud architectures and the growth of converged networks in the enterprise. Intel’s earlier foray on this front was with InfiniBand, which it supported for many years before finally being squeezed out by faster, ultra-low-latency architectures like AMD’s HyperTransport consortium on the one end and on the other end by cheaper but slightly slower 10GigE. Intel has been supportive of 10Gb architecture and this acquisition further enhances that strategy. More importantly, 10GigE makes more sense for Intel if it is looking for a common single interconnect architecture for datacenters, since all applications run on it anyway.