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HP's Moonshot Strategy Requires Enterprise Astronauts Ready for Liftoff

Enterprises that are prepared to buy into HP's Moonshot server strategy need to learn a new language and be willing to take a new approach to data center design.

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Talk to techies who worked at Hewlett-Packard in the '80s and '90s, and you'll get an earful about the good old days of HP Labs and the culture of technology innovation. Those walk-around managers, the stories go, would find, encourage and fund projects that were too outlandish or too new for the bean counters and market analysts to conjure a growth projection. It was a time when the nerds were in charge and all was right with the world.

Fast forward to 2013 and HP—which lost its way with odd forays into the consumer world and a spreadsheet mentality good for cutting costs but not so good for growth—is back with its Moonshot server as a service introduction.

The Moonshot server concept is compelling and is centered around customers being encouraged to mix and match components and server capabilities to align with business requirements. Encouraging customers to buy what they need instead of what you have to sell sounds like a no-brainer, but it is not the way much of the tech industry has operated in the past.

In some ways, it is the natural evolution of server boxes shifting from racks to server blades and then to server cartridges. In other ways, it is a total rethink of the server architecture with the customer now in charge and ready to mix and match CPUs, GPUs, storage and networking to create systems tuned for business.

The first set of shipping Moonshot products are based on Intel's Atom low-power processor, and they are clearly aimed at the big Web farm, hyperscale operations. But the HP execs were adamant in contending the Moonshot ecosystem would include a wide range of processors, memory, graphics chips and an overall system architecture to keep track of all those cartridges.

The rise of the bring your own device mentality and build your own data center architecture championed by Facebook and Google has now come full circle to the server vendor community, which can either get into helping customers build their own distinctive, tuned data centers or be left out of the game.

The advent of the mix-and-match approach to server development will upend the server vendor business. No longer will it be one, long and established vendor against another straining to explain why their box or blade, which contains the exact same components, is better than the other. The new competition includes names like Wistron and Quanta, which sell directly to the Web cloud companies bypassing the traditional Dell and HP channels.

Here's where the need to recruit Moonshot astronauts comes to play. If you are going to spec server cartridges to align with your business priorities, you are going to have to understand those priorities. The traditional gulf between techie speak and business needs will have to be bridged if this is going to work.

The Internet of things, video streaming, big data and engaged social networks are all great ideas, but are also ideas that make different demands on the IT infrastructure. The world is quickly shifting from data centers that were built around the concept of look-alike boxes bought with great, over-provisioned specifications, to finely tuned, energy-efficient data centers aligned with a company's business goals.

The big high-growth Web organizations (Google, Amazon, eBay and others) have known this for a while, but enterprise organizations are just now catching up. This change is an opportunity for technology architects and engineers to retool their skills and take part in Moonshot-type approaches to IT infrastructure. The downside is if they don't get aboard, they will be left on the wrong planet.

About Eric Lundquist

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Eric Lundquist, who was editor-in-chief at eWEEK (previously PC Week) from 1996-2008 authors this blog for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this blog. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.