HP Launches 'Intelligent' ProLiant Gen8 Servers

The company makes several announcements on Day 1 of its first-ever global partner conference in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS €” Hewlett-Packard, looking a bit more settled in its top-level administration with new CEO Meg Whitman following a tumultuous 11 months under a previous administration, staged its first global partner conference Feb. 13 and unveiled a sweeping refresher of its ProLiant server franchise.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company made the announcement€”among several others€”on Day 1 of its first-ever global partner conference here at the Aria, Vdara and Cosmopolitan hotels. About 3,000 resellers, integrators, consultants and other business associates from all over the world are attending the event.

Whitman, who replaced Leo Apotheker€”who lasted but 11 months on the job€”last fall as CEO of the world's largest IT company, will make her first major conference keynote speech for HP on Feb. 15, the closing day of the conference. The company is announcing updates in servers, storage, networking, PCs and channel sales options at the conference.

/images/stories/hp-logo.pngBig News in Enterprise Servers: Gen8

HP's servers are currently the most strategically important hardware products the company designs and produces. The company has been the market leader in this department for 62 straight quarters. At the same time, its printer division has long been established as the global market leader, and its storage and networking hardware and end-user devices are all Top 3 players in their respective world markets.

For decades, HP has had to fight off competition from IBM, Dell and other smaller companies, and now it is facing some serious new competition from Cisco Systems for its Unified Computing System.

"A leader can never rest," Mark Potter, senior vice president and general manager of infrastructure software and blades, told the conference. "To continue to lead the market, we must continue to innovate. That's what we've done with Gen8."

The main news about the new ProLiant Generation 8 servers is that they now contain a so-called "Sea of Sensors" that enables more workload intelligence to be captured quickly and used, so that the units can report back to users and to integrators themselves about how they are performing.

IBM used to call this autonomic€”or self-analyzing€”computing about eight years ago. In introducing the Gen8 machines, Potter said that "these new servers have the intelligence and automation to virtually manage themselves."

Gen8 servers, which can be fitted with either NAND flash solid-state drives or Serial ATA (SATA) hard-disk drives€”or a mix of both€”are all about "embedding intelligence into the motherboard of the systems," Gary Thome, chief architect of infrastructure software and blades, told eWEEK.

For example, one of the key new features to be made available later this year (in visual form) is a GPS-like location system that gives a data center administrator the exact location of a failed server. In a data center with hundreds or thousands of servers and disk drives, a task as simple as correctly replacing a burned-out server or disk drive can be a tedious, time-consuming, expensive job. Gen8 servers send a notice to the admin's control center with an exact geographic location and live status update.

"You might take a complete inventory of all the servers in a data center, but over time these things get moved and replaced, and it's hard to keep track of them all," Thome said. "But with this, you always know exactly where everything is. Simple concept, but it hasn't been done this way before."

Intelligence Extends Out to Apps, Admins

The intelligence is gathered inside the servers through all the sensors, Thome said, and then extended out to the applications "to make them run better; then to the administrators, who are managing the people who are managing the infrastructure, to help make their tasks easier; then into the data center to make it more efficient; and finally to the service and support experience, to make that more delightful."

Right now, HP offers aggregate information on the flow of power and of the temperature of each server. Eventually, more information metrics€”including location€”will become available as development on the management software continues, Thome said.

Another new feature, developed in a partnership with Intel, is called Smart Socket, which eliminates the common problem of damaged pins when inserting a new processor onto a motherboard. Using the Smart Socket, a data center administrator simply lays the chip into place and the machine does the rest, connecting the processor without damaging it.

"A simple idea, but a very real and common problem for a lot of people, now solved," Potter said. The ProLiant Gen 8s are the result of a two-year, $300 million HP initiative called Project Voyager, the company's quest to "redefine data center economics by automating every aspect of the server lifecycle."

And that the company is doing. Project Voyager is the third phase of HP's multi-year transformation plan for the server market, which began in November 2011 with Project Moonshot. Project Moonshot updated HP's servers for extreme-low-energy computing. Project Odyssey, phase two, updated the company's mission-critical computing division. Project Voyager automates every aspect of the server, Potter said.

Potter said that Project Voyager has resulted in more than 900 patents filed and a new systems architecture called ProActive Insight architecture, which will run the entire HP Converged Infrastructure.

For product specifications and other details on the Gen8 servers, go here.

Chris Preimesberger is eWEEK's Editor of Features and Analysis. Twitter: editingwhiz.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...