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HP & The Machine: Big Hopes, Big Hurdles

HP has laid out a great vision, but it faces a tough task to make "The Machine" a reality, analyst and former HP exec says.

they're the volume semiconductor supplier. Photonics isn't going to realize its full potential until Intel starts producing parts that have photonic inter-connects, and that's out on the horizon." Fichera added that the "engineering jury" hasn't yet decided the right place for photonics to reside, either.

As for operating system: "HP doesn't write OSs. They write cloud environment software right now, and they're enhancing their own and they're enhancing OpenStack," Fichera said. "Just saying we need a new OS isn't going to make one magically appear."

To be clear, this isn't all to naysay the concepts and market demands driving The Machine. "Their vision is correct: these are all the kinds of technology that will be needed," Fichera noted. Rather, the ambitious nature of the program means even a behemoth like HP will need some help -- lots of it -- to turn even a revised version of that vision into reality. Fichera noted that 2020 might sound far away, but it's not. "That's not a lot of time to build an entirely brand-new architecture," he observed.

The more reasonable bet is that this kind of thinking will push HP and other firms to better meet the needs of enterprises wrangling with big data, cloud, and other needs on so-called legacy systems. In other words, we may not see The Machine arrive in 2020 -- or ever, for that matter -- as currently described, but we will see innovation that turns some of The Machine's theoretical upside into reality.

"Whether or not they get 'The Machine,' what this kind of thinking guarantees is that they will get progressively better systems to solve the problem they described," Fichera said. For example, the advent of commercialized memristors could "essentially result in having computers that have a single-level store below main memory -- that there's no longer any differentiation between local disk, network disk, flash, and so on. It will be all one persistent, fast, and very big second-level store."

The bottom line: "There's a ton of people that need to buy into this [for The Machine to become reality]," Fichera said. HP may be overstating its own role and capability in delivering something like The Machine, but that doesn't mean there's no upside.

"HP's in a very good position to deliver systems that utilize this kind of architectural thought," Fichera said. "[But] there's no way anyone can deliver everything they've got here in a working system in six years. That's asking a lot. But the net fallout will be we will get much better systems as more and more people look at these kinds of contributing technologies. If we change HP's recipe to 'system on a chip, a better persistent memory layer, better inter-connection and data transmission, and improvements in operating system and software environment,' those four things are kind of defining what we need to do to solve this problem."

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