HP to customise Moonshot offerings, offer ARM and Xeon chips

HP will offer flexibility on Moonshot dense server configurations

Hewlett-Packard in the future will offer customised Moonshot servers at different prices and also offer configurations with ARM and Intel Xeon processors.

HP has started shipping the first offering in its new class of hyperscale servers called Moonshot, which runs on processors built for smartphones and tablets. The initial Moonshot system has a fixed configuration with 45 Proliant servers -- also called cartridges -- based on Intel's Atom S1200 x86 low-power processors, and will be priced at US$61,875.

Over time, customers will be able to work with HP to configure Moonshot depending on how the server will be used and that also will determine the price, said Mark Potter, senior vice president and general manager of the Industry-Standard Servers and Software group, in an interview.

Moonshot will also be part of HP's customized server offerings such as CloudSystem, which is for now based on HP's ProLiant industry-standard servers. HP will also offer Moonshot as an option to customers looking to build modular data centers.

While HP decided to initially go with Intel processors, Moonshot with ARM processors will be released in the second half of the year. HP is working with chip makers like Calxeda and Texas Instruments, which make ARM chips, Potter said.

The initial Moonshot configurations will be based on mobile chips, but HP will also ultimately offer Intel's high-performance Xeon chips for the server, Potter said. He did not provide a date on when Xeon chips would be available for the server.

Moonshot servers are designed to be processor agnostic and will be able to mix and match ARM and Intel servers, Potter said. The company also wants to mix in FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays) and other processing units to boost performance on the servers.

The first iterations of Moonshot servers are designed to handle large volumes of fast-moving Internet and cloud tasks. The dense servers can scale performance quickly and help companies save energy, space and cost compared to racks of traditional 1U or 2U servers running on conventional server processors such as Intel's Xeon or Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron.

"It will represent a whole new category of server architectures that fits what we call the Internet of things" to hyperscale environments, Potter said.

An increasing amount of information from mobile devices and smartphones is being sent to servers, and Moonshot represents a shift in the way information is processed and shared, Potter said.

But the server is built for specific workloads and is not intended to replace industry-standard servers that can handle different types of workloads, Potter said.

The effort to develop Moonshot servers was first unveiled in November 2011 with an ARM server design, and HP later added a new design called Gemini with Intel's low-power Atom processors. HP decided to go with server-ready Intel processors to launch Moonshot commercially and continues to work with ARM processor and software companies, Potter said.

"Not every single one of those workloads needs an x86 processor," Potter said.

For example, Texas Instruments' Keystone multicore chip, which has four ARM Cortex-A15 processor cores and eight digital signal processors (DSPs), may be better at processing voice, which makes it useful for certain telecommunications applications, Potter said. There is also an interest in Moonshot running TI's chips in analyzing seismic data, Potter said.

The commercial launch of Moonshot will be a breakthrough for ARM, which designs and licenses microprocessors, but has no presence in the server market yet. ARM's processors are found in most smartphones and tablets, but the processor designer is looking to make its way upstream into the high-margin server market. ARM faces the challenge of unseating Intel, which dominates servers and is now aggressively pushing its low-power Atom server processor line.

HP will upgrade Moonshot to Intel's latest server chip code-named Avoton, which will ship later this year and succeed the Atom S1200. The new Atom chip is faster and more power efficient, thanks to a new microarchitecture. The chip is also made using Intel's latest 22-nanometer manufacturing process.

ARM has known weaknesses such as 32-bit and limited software support, but HP sees promise in the processor in certain applications. ARM has already announced a 64-bit architecture called ARMv8, which will be used in chips that begin shipping next year.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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