HP Plans Low-Power Servers Using Calxeda ARM Chips

HP's tiny servers built on Calxeda's energy efficient Cortex chip are designed to handle large Web data streams, video processing, picture uploading, or Hadoop-style big data analysis.
HP on Tuesday launched Project Moonshot, ultra-low-power servers that are designed for large Web applications, search engines, and social networking firms. The tiny servers use cell phone-type components in a server architecture that consumes 89% less power than conventional servers.

The servers have a format that is a fraction of the size of a typical blade server but are not initially designed as replacements for Intel and AMD x86 servers. On the contrary, they will not be able to run Windows, only Cannonical and Red Hat Linux.

Instead of being general purpose computing devices, the HP Redstone Server Development Platform will be designed to execute particular types of workloads, such as social networking, search, online gaming, and other applications that make use of many parallel threads running at the same time.

The Redstone servers will appear in the first half of 2012 and will be based on Calxeda's energy efficient ARM processors, its Cortex chip. ARM chips are often used in cell phones and other mobile devices that must depend on battery power.

Paul Santeler, VP and general manager of HP industry standard servers and software, said "trayfuls" of the tiny Redstone servers can be plugged into standard server racks. HP showed off 2,880 servers in a rack in a demonstration Tuesday at HP Labs in Palo Alto, Calif. The new design is aimed at customers similar to the one who recently told him,"I don't think of 20,000 as a large order anymore," Santeler said.

[ Want to see how fast data centers are adding to the world's electrical consumption? See Data Centers May Not Gobble The Earth After All. ]

Santeler contrasted 400 traditional HP x86 servers in 10 racks using 20 switches and 1,600 cables with an equivalent processing power found in one-half rack of tiny Redstone servers. The half rack would contain 1,600 servers--it takes four Redstones to equal one typical x86--with two switches and just 41 power and connector cables. The rack is a highly integrated unit with a shared network fabric, power supply, cooling, and management interface, he said. Redstone servers have also been designed with high I/O bandwidth.

He held up a roughly two-inch by nine-inch card that plugs into a tray for the rack and said that it contained four Redstone servers on it. The servers take up 94% less space than x86 servers and cost 63% less to produce, Santeler said.

"As an end user, Redstone is interesting to us because when you log into a machine, you use the same Linux tools and management interface as x86 Linux servers," said Niall Dalton, director of high frequency trading at Cantor Fitzgerald, a financial services firm, who attended the announcement at HP's request.

HP officials took pains to emphasize that the initial choice of Calxeda ARM to power Redstone servers did not rule out other architectures for the server platform. Intel's Atom chip is another low power architecture that is slated to be included in the platform at an unspecified future date.

The Redstone architecture is likely to be used for off-line analytics on large Web data streams, video processing, picture uploading, or Hadoop-style big data analysis, said Forrester analyst Richard Fichera. But its "system level architecture has a great play in the data center as well," if HP succeeds in getting it established, he said.

Dwight Barron, chief technologist for HP's industry standard servers and software division, said the architecture is designed to make use of future "energy sipping" chips in addition to ARM and Intel's Atom. Today's ARM chip use is mainly for embedded systems with the Linux operating system and applications already loaded onto a device. The x86 will probably remain more versatile and general purpose than ARM or other Redstone servers, but huge Web companies like Zynga, Google, and Facebook don't have lots of applications. They have millions of users of a handful of applications, and Redstone is designed to serve those firms more efficiently.

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