Project Moonshot: Can New Server Line Revive HP? - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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Project Moonshot: Can New Server Line Revive HP?

HP says its Moonshot servers are a major advance, comparable to the transition from UNIX servers to x86. But will they be enough to reverse the company's fortunes?

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HP announced on Monday that it has begun selling the first product in its Project Moonshot family of servers. First teased in 2011 as a proof of concept that has since amassed 50 beta testers, Project Moonshot is a new server line specifically engineered to address the escalating strain placed on data centers by social media, cloud computing, mobile devices, big data tools and other rapidly evolving tech trends.

Built around the low-energy processors typically found in smartphones and tablets, the new offerings join an industry-wide move toward compact, extremely energy-efficient servers. For HP, Moonshot also represents a significant step in its attempt to not only reverse sliding revenue but also silence lingering questions about the company's prospects and management.

The new product consists of the HP Moonshot 1500 enclosure and ProLiant Moonshot servers. The first of these ProLiant servers are built around Intel's "Centerton" dual-core Atom S1200 chips but additional models run by different chipsets -- including x86 options from AMD and ARM offerings from Calxeda, Texas Instruments and others -- are expected to hit the market in coming months. In comparison to today's data centers, in which information of all types travels through the stacks, Moonshot is intended to usher in a class of software-defined servers, with different chipsets enabling companies to build programmable data stacks that are optimized for specific workloads.

[ For more on IBM's server strategy, read IBM Fights Rivals With Aggressive Power Server Prices. ]

The ability to scale out workloads on the fly has become more important in recent years, with examples ranging from online gaming and Web 2.0 platforms to financial industry services, big data analytics tools, and personalized medical research centered on genomics. By creating servers configured for specific tasks, HP hopes Moonshot's programmable interface will reduce ownership costs while enabling companies to handle exploding data demands.

In a webcast announcing Moonshot, HP said the system -- which starts at $61,875 for an enclosure, 45 ProLiant servers and an integrated switch -- will occupy only one-eighth the space required by traditional servers while consuming up to 89% less energy. The company said these improvements will translate into a 77% overall cost reduction.

During an online Q&A following the webcast, HP representatives sidestepped a question regarding whether the improvements have been independently verified, but clarified that the savings are relative to its DL300 servers, currently the tech giant's most popular option. The company also shared that Moonshot servers are currently supporting part of, which attracts around 3 million daily visitors, and also that its configuration runs on the power equivalent to only a dozen 60-watt light bulbs.

In addition to power costs, HP asserted that companies will reap additional benefits with Moonshot because the server infrastructure is better suited to today's data demands. CEO Meg Whitman, who kicked off the webcast, noted that more than 10 billion devices are currently connected to the Internet, and that the costs of supporting these devices will become unsustainable as time goes on. She called Moonshot the foundation for the next 20 billion connected devices.

HP's overall strategy has been controversial for more than a decade, from the company's 2001 merger with rival PC-market Compaq, to the layoffs and restructuring efforts that have provoked skepticism under Whitman's leadership. The company has continued to come under fire in recent months, with low points including the $8.8 billion write-down of HP's much-touted Autonomy purchase, shareholder discontent, the resignation of company chairman Ray Lane and several board members, and whispers that the Silicon Valley staple might be worth more if it were broken up.

Despite the turmoil, Wall Street has recently become bullish about HP. The shift began, somewhat counter-intuitively, after the tech giant's most recent earnings report; the company's 7% decline in revenue wasn't the sort of news that would normally trigger a stock to rally, but because expectations had been even grimmer, investors began to view HP with renewed optimism. The company's stock has since enjoyed a market-beating rise in value.

During the webcast, HP didn't hide its hope that Moonshot will accelerate the positive momentum. Indeed, the company established the none-too-subtly named to host its announcement, a choice that could be viewed as either bold or grandiose, depending how one views HP's recent progress. The webcast itself featured frequent allusions to HP's 1989 introduction of the x86 server, with speakers explicitly calling Moonshot a similarly game-changing step.

Dave Donatelli, executive VP and general manager of HP's enterprise group, emphasized that HP is prepared to pick up the pace of innovation in order to establish itself as a market leader. By partnering with multiple chipmakers, he said, HP will be able to produce new, workload-specific offerings that are competitively priced and frequently updated. He said the company's Pathfinder Innovation System program will help form communities around the new servers, and that a growing library of configuration guidelines will help customers target specific tasks. Donatelli said additional servers will be released up to three times faster than in the past.

Moonshot currently targets large companies with complex Web needs, but this sort of dense, energy-efficient and scalable infrastructure is expected to eat into the traditional x86 world in coming years. HP has announced its intentions in a big way, but it won't be the only one vying for position in the new landscape. Dell, for example, has been developing similar technologies over the last couple of years, and the field should only grow more crowded as traditional data centers become less able to handle exploding information loads.

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