HP Moonshot: Say Goodbye to the Vanilla Server

By Patrick Moorhead - April 8, 2013
HP launched today a game-changing line of servers called the HP Moonshot 1500. It is easily their biggest server launch sinceHP introduced the industry’s first X86-based server in 1989.   At a high level, the Moonshot 1500 is the beginning of the slow death of the vanilla, homogenous server and the rise of specialized servers for specialized workloads for scale-out datacenters. The HP Moonshot 1500 System uses a modular, server cartridge and an ecosystem approach including a wide range of silicon partners to differentiate based on choice of workloads and acceleration technologies.  While my firm has published a detailed white paper you can read here, I wanted to share with you the highlights. A good place to start is to examine what is the driving need for a different kind of server architecture.  While datacenters have grown significantly over the last 10 years, we haven’t seen anything near the growth that will happen over the next 5-10 years.  The biggest driver of datacenter expansion are the pervasiveness of smartphones and a new class of devices, nicknamed IoT, or Internet of Things.  IoT is a world where nearly everything is connected to a datacenter, items like cars, home appliances, glasses, watches, jewelry, clothes…. even packaged goods. Every one of these devices will, one way or another, be connected to a datacenter for control, management, and analysis. The required datacenter capacity cannot be served effectively with current datacenter and server architectures. Current enterprise data centers aren’t prepared for the onslaught of devices coming their way. It’s not as easy as adding more homogenous, virtualized servers…. There’s just not enough power or space to do this with standard architectures.  It’s just not efficient. This is where HP Moonshot comes into play.  At massive scale, the key is to deliver the most efficient service for a specific workload.  HP has created an ecosystem of specialized cartridges that can use vastly different kinds of compute engines to deliver a wide range of specialized services. These compute engines are CPUs, GPUs, APUs, DSPs and FPGAs from AMD, Applied Micro, Calxeda, Intel and Texas Instruments.  Datacenters can put up to 1800 servers in a single, 47U rack, which could take 10X as many racks using a standard architecture.  This extreme density reduces, per a given unit of work, the datacenter size, energy consumption, complexity and cost. HP officially launched today the first ProLiant Moonshot Cartridge with the Intel Atom 1200 processor and will roll out more over the course of the year.  HP won’t stop with those 5 vendors, as there are many different kinds of compute solutions that provide good specialized workload performance.  These are workloads like cloud gaming, visualization, HPC applications, financial services and facial recognition. Stay tuned for more partners and accelerators. To help drive and manage the growth of the ecosystem, HP has created the Pathfinder Innovation Ecosystem. The program will on-ramp new technologies, Moonshot Server cartridges, applications, tools, and OSes that plug into the Moonshot environment. For hardware, HP engineered flexible standards-based interfaces into their server cartridge architecture so that nearly any kind of accelerator or processor developer can make a cartridge.  With the Moonshot Concierge Services, end customers and ISVs can also tap into the technology without even owning hardware by remotely accessing HP’s Moonshot lab to test and benchmark their code for compatibility, performance, and efficiency. This saves ISV’s capital and allows them to be more efficient doing what they do best. Does this mean that standard servers will just disappear overnight?  Absolutely not, but the transition to specialized, application servers has already begun for at-scale, cloud datacenters and will continue rapidly.  Traditional enterprises just don’t have the scale for application specific servers, but as enterprises tap into public and hybrid clouds, they will tap into these specialized servers via cloud services. SMBs are very similar in that as the cost of running their infrastructure becomes cost prohibitive compared to the cloud, they will also tap into these specialized services and may not even be aware of it, as their hosters will shield them from the complexity. The HP Moonshot 1500 System takes a very differentiated approach to scale out, specialized servers for specialized workloads.  HP’s cartridge-based approach to heterogeneous computing is uniquely flexible, and if HP’s Pathfinder Innovation Ecosystem gets quick momentum, it will be very hard to replicate, which gives HP a leg up in these markets. Competitors will attack with unique solutions for different sectors of the scale out data center, but scale could be a challenge. There will be many twists, turns, and factions that will form because the stakes are so high, so it’s hard to predict a single winning architectural approach. It’s going to be a wild ride. I have published a detailed and free white paper here if you would like to know more.  Disclosure: Moor Insights & Strategy has a research relationship with HP, other scale-out datacenter OEMs and technology providers.
Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.