HP’s Latest Moonshot Server Armed With Intel Avoton SoCs

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2013-09-04

HP's Latest Moonshot Server Armed With Intel Avoton SoCs

Hewlett-Packard officials made headlines in 2011 when they announced Project Moonshot, an effort to create ultra-low-power servers that would include systems powered by ARM-based chips, a surprising move considering the tech giant's long history with Intel.

However, HP in April announced the first Moonshot server modules, which were running on Intel's S1200 "Centerton" Atom system-on-a-chip (SoC). Centerton was designed specifically for the burgeoning density-optimized microserver space and released in December 2012.

Now Intel officials say the next-generation Atom data center chips—the C2000 family, once dubbed "Avoton" for servers and "Rangeley" for networking products—are shipping to systems makers, and HP officials were at the Sept. 4 event to talk about their M300 system, the latest Moonshot server module that will initially run on Intel technology.

HP was one of dozens of data center system makers to talk about new designs based on the C2000 chips, including 11 vendors who are aiming for new Avoton-based dense servers. Some of those vendors include Dell, SuperMicro, NEC and Penguin Computing. Dell's Copper initiative also calls for ARM-based SoCs to power some microservers. At the C2000 launch, Dell officials announced the DCS 1300 platform built for cold storage workloads.

Intel officials have said the new 22-nanometer C2000 Avoton chips, based on the new "Silvermont" microarchitecture, will offer as much as seven times the performance and six times the power efficiency of the Centerton SoCs. Some versions—there are 13 in all—will offer as many as eight cores.

John Gromala, senior director of hyperscale product management at HP, told eWEEK that the improved performance and energy efficiency of the new 2.4GHz Atom chips will give the M300 greater capabilities over the previous Moonshot servers. Where the previous modules supported such tasks like static Web serving, the performance boost will enable the new M300 to handle such heavier workloads as memory caching, a wider range of Web hosting and interactive Web content.

"There is a big improvement in horsepower available in the two [Moonshot] designs," Gromala said.

HP's Moonshot 1500 enclosure can hold up to 45 server modules, and a standard data center rack can hold up to 450 server nodes. The M300 is designed to fit into the existing enclosure.

The new modules aren't due out until later in the next quarter. Gromala declined to say when Moonshot systems powered by ARM-based chips will start appearing, but added that there will be a series of Moonshot-related announcements during the fall. During the unveiling of the first modules in April, HP officials said Moonshot systems would run chips made not only by Intel but by ARM partners such as Calxeda, Applied Micro and Advanced Micro Devices.

HP’s Latest Moonshot Server Armed With Intel Avoton SoCs

The growth of such trends as cloud computing and mobility is having a significant impact on data center infrastructures, which are being tasked with running huge numbers of smaller workloads. Web-based companies like Facebook and Google are looking to fill their massive data centers with small, power-efficient servers that can run such workloads and quickly create and support cloud-based services.

IDC analysts last month said such density-optimized servers are the fastest growing segment in the server market.

 “The datacenter build-outs by service providers are driving growth in the industry and represent a strategic opportunity for OEMs, while at the same time IDC is seeing new participants enter the market targeting the hyperscale datacenter segment," Jed Scaramella, research manager of enterprise servers at IDC, said in a statement.

Intel is driving its Atom platform—originally created six years ago for the netbook space and later for mobile devices—into the microserver space. Avoton came nine months after Centerton, and the 14-nanometer “Denverton” is due out next year. At the same time, ARM and its various partners see an opportunity to move their low-power architecture—which is dominant in smartphones and tablets—into the data center.

How this will all pan out has yet to be decided, according to Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64. Intel officials argue such advantages as a strong and well-known x86 architecture and ecosystem and familiar development and management tools. ARM and its partners have said that many of the new workloads are based on open software, which runs on the ARM architecture, and that organizations are not as tied to the Intel Architecture as before.

Brookwood told eWEEK that given how new the microserver space is, businesses have yet to give their opinion through their buying decisions. Until they do, it will be difficult to determine in which direction needle will move.

“I’m going to wait to let the market tell me where they’re going to go,” he said.

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