Intel, ARM Share Space in HP's Project Moonshot

The rival chip makers' products will both be used by HP as the vendor looks to create "software-defined servers" that are defined by the applications they run.

NEW YORK—Hewlett-Packard may have kicked off its Project Moonshot effort with longtime partner Intel, but the initiative will rapidly grow to include other chip makers, from Advanced Micro Devices to various manufacturers of ARM-based processors.

HP's Moonshot program—which will offer very dense, ultra-low-power servers aimed at helping organizations deal with the rapidly increasing storage, networking and processor demands brought on by cloud computing, big data and other trends—will become another battleground in the growing competition between Intel and ARM.

And that's as it should be, according to HP officials. The program's goal is to create what Dave Donatelli, executive vice president and general manager of HP's Enterprise Group, calls "software-defined servers"—systems customized for particular workloads, offering a mix of technologies (not only processors, but also such components as GPUs and memory) and defined by the applications that run on them. Organizations choose whatever system would work best for their workload needs.

The changing dynamics within the data center are driving businesses to look for other options besides the general-purpose systems that are available to them, according to Mark Potter, senior vice president and general manager of HP's Industry Standard Servers and Software Group. Facebook designs many of its own systems, while others look to white-box makers.

HP officials say they now can get the same power, space and cost efficiencies—and customization—with the Moonshot systems. The various processor options are a key part of that.

HP surprised the industry in 2011 when officials first announced Project Moonshot, saying they were going to partner with ARM chip maker Calxeda. HP was the first major systems OEM to embrace the ARM architecture for servers. Dell has since begun its own work in this area, with such chip makers as Calxeda, Applied Micro and Marvell.

At the same time, Intel was continuing to work to drive down the power consumption in its Atom platform, and its Centerton chips will be the ones in this initial round of commercial Moonshot servers. Intel officials at the Intel Developers Forum in Beijing this week also are showing off the upcoming next-generation "Avoton" chips, which will be released in the second half of the year.

Officials with ARM and a number of its partners were at the HP Moonshot event here April 8. Lakshmi Mandyam, director of ARM's Server and Ecosystems unit, said there were six chip and three software partners at the HP event, which she said was "a great example" of how collaboration drives innovation. In an interview with eWEEK here, Mandyam also noted that HP's model for the Moonshot initiatives mirrors what ARM has done in growing its partnerships in both hardware and software.

"It's really about the ecosystem," she said.

Mandyam pointed to that ecosystem as a core element in the server opportunity opening up for ARM, which is far better known for the low-power systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) that run in most smartphones and tablets. However, executives have been eyeing the data center for the past few years, and Mandyam said the opportunity is there.

Chip makers like Calxeda, Applied Micro and Marvell—which license ARM designs—already are offering server chips. In addition, ARM partners with Linux distributors Red Hat, Canonical and Ubuntu, and helped launch Linaro—which helps developers create software and tools for the ARM architecture—in 2010. All of them were at the Moonshot launch.