Did Google Buy a Mysterious Startup to Build a Mysterious Cloud Device?

Last Updated Apr 22, 2010 6:29 AM EDT

There's lots of speculation about Google's (GOOG) acquisition of the mystery company Agnilux. The latter is a hardware company that's been in stealth mode, not even discussing its activities. But there is enough data floating around to make it clear that Google wants to develop its own high-performance, low-power chip to power an Android smartphone or -- and I think this is more likely -- a Chrome OS-based netbook completely focused on web-centric computation. And somehow, Agnilux probably fits in to that plan.

First, some currently known facts:

  • The company had only a placeholder web site giving an address, and even that is now down.
  • Some of the names associated with the company -- Mark Hayter, Olof Johansson, Todd Broch, Dan Dobberpuhl, and Amarjit Gill -- were with PA Semi, the semiconductor design firm that Apple (AAPL) bought in 2008.
  • Dobberpuhl is an expert in high-performance, low-power chip design and, before Apple and his time as CEO of PA Semi, was general manager of Broadcom's (BRCM) broadband processor division. He's got mobile device chips written all over him.
  • It's not clear when Dobberpuhl left Apple, but someone registered the web site in January 2009.
  • Johansson left Apple to work at Agnilux in August 2009. He's an expert in operating system development and Linux kernel work. Linux happens to be the basis for both Chrome OS and Android. According to his LinkedIn profile, his specialties are "PowerPC and ARM architecture, Linux kernel internals, Hypervisor and virtualization software." Virtualization could easily fit work on a device that was cloud-centric.
  • Mark Hayter was a system architect and vice-president of hardware at PA Semi. He became a director at Apple from June 2008 through December 2008, according to his LinkedIn profile. So he left right before someone obtained the Agnilux.com domain name.
Let's add some additional data points. According to his LinkedIn profile, Mitchell Roe is a software engineer at Agnilux specializing in such areas as cloud platforms, and web services. Anush Elangovan is an Agnilux principal engineer and former technical lead from Cisco with an expertise in networking. John Wakerly is listed as a co-founder of Agnilux. Some additional web search points to a background in digital design with expertise in microprocessor design. Senior software engineer Vince Laviano co-founded a mobile software company called CellSpin, which makes microblogging software for mobile devices.

Let's put this together with some of Google's interests:

  • mobile devices
  • cloud computing
  • Google-branded consumer electronics
  • networking and server farms (for its operations)
  • running infrastructure (both operations and its plan to become an ISP)
  • serving up ads
There are rumors that Agnilux was developing server chips for Cisco (CSCO), and certainly there are ties to that company, but given the collection of engineering backgrounds, I don't buy it.

Yes, some have an expertise in major networking, but what of all the focus on mobile?

To me, the most logical conclusion is that Google plans a device running a Linux kernel and either Android or Chrome OS that will boot ultra fast into a cloud, possibly running on custom-designed server and/or network equipment. (Don't forget that rumor from last year that Google was developing a router.)Those who think that a typically strong non-compete from Apple could keep the developers and engineers out of the way should remember that all this takes place in California, a state where non-competes are virtually unenforceable.

It would be an ambitious project for sure -- whatever it was exactly.

Image: RGBStock.com user melodi2, site standard license.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.