HP Rolls Out Moonshot Servers for Big Data, Cloud Workloads

HP's Moonshot program is designed to create "software-designed servers," that are customized to the workloads they're running.

Hewlett-Packard is beginning to ship its ultra-low-power Project Moonshot servers, with the first ones powered by Intel's Atom S1200 Centerton chip and the promise of more systems running on other processors from the likes of ARM partners Calxeda, Texas Instruments and Advanced Micro Devices.

During a Webcast event for journalists and analysts April 8, HP executives, including President and CEO Meg Whitman, touted the servers as being as important a step in the server industry as the shift from mainframes to Unix systems and the introduction of x86 servers.

With the Moonshot systems, the company is promising servers that are designed for particular workloads—from cloud computing to big data to mobile—and can be customized by users to suit their needs. Dave Donatelli, executive vice president and general manager of HP's Enterprise Group, called the new systems the industry's first "software-defined servers"—systems that are designed for the software workloads they run.

These first systems will focus on cloud workloads.

HP first introduced its Project Moonshot in November 2011, with officials announcing they were going to work with Calxeda to develop very-low-power servers powered by ARM-designed chips that would run Internet workloads in the massive, dense data centers that are becoming increasingly commonplace. However, executives said last year that the first of these systems would be powered by Intel's Centerton.

There have been more than 50 companies in HP's beta program for the system, Donatelli said.

The ProLiant Moonshot systems are designed to offer high performance while greatly reducing floor space, power consumption and overall costs. During the Webcast, Whitman cited such trends as big data, cloud computing and greater mobility, including the increased use of smartphones and tablets. The overwhelming amounts of data being created through these trends are forcing organizations to build massive data centers that consume tremendous amounts of power; to keep up with demand, data centers in the future running traditional systems would have to be 200 yards long and would need 10 new power plants to generate an amount of energy equal to what 2 million typical U.S. homes consume.

"Right now, we're on a path that is not sustainable in space, power or cost perspectives," Whitman said.

The Moonshot systems are designed to address that, using 89 percent less power and 80 percent less space than traditional systems, while reducing complexity by 97 percent and overall costs by 77 percent, according to Donatelli. HP can fit 1,800 Moonshot servers in a rack. Given the demands being put on data centers, "you can't just make a few tweaks in design to make those problems go away," he said.

The systems fit into Moonshot 1500 chassis. They currently are selling, starting at $61,875, in the United States and Canada. They'll be available worldwide and through channel partners in May.

Keys to the Moonshot systems include sharing various components—from cooling and networking to power supply and HP's Integrated Lights-Out management software—as well as rightsizing what's needed, such as the amount of power used by the system, according to Mark Potter, senior vice president and general manager of HP's Industry Standard Servers and Software Group.

During the Webcast, Patrick Moorhead, principle analyst with Moor Insights, said the new architecture that HP is bringing with Moonshot is important because of the new demands being put on data centers, not just by computers and mobile devices, but the rapidly growing number of sensors being used by organizations, creating what analysts and vendors are calling the Internet of Things.

"The data center is not set up to do that," Moorhead said. "We just can't go into the future with a data center architecture that is almost 25 years old. We need a new architecture."