HP's 'Machine' is a big bet on the future of server hardware

The system could be a game changer but won't get to market for a few years or more

Hewlett-Packard is reportedly developing a powerful new type of computer that draws on technologies under development at HP Labs, including memristors and silicon photonics.

Called the Machine, it's said to represent a new type of computer architecture that could "replace a data center's worth of equipment with a single refrigerator-sized machine," according to a report Wednesday in Bloomberg Businessweek.

But the Machine won't come to market for a few years or possibly until the end of the decade, the article says, adding that HP must first overcome significant technology challenges.

It's the latest example of HP betting on new hardware to help revive its fortunes. A few years ago, it developed Moonshot, a new type of low-power server aimed at large, scale-out data centers.

Moonshot took longer than expected to get to market, however, and HP still hasn't said when it will reap significant revenue from it. So it remains to be seen if it can pull off what sounds like an even more ambitious project with the Machine.

Details are thin, but the Machine is said to make use of a new memory technology called memristors, high-speed silicon photonic interconnects and a new OS being developed by HP.

HP began work on the system about a year and a half ago, after CTO Martin Fink was named head of HP Labs, and is determined to get it to market or "fall on its face trying," the Businessweek article says.

Memristors might represent the biggest change. Squeezing more performance out of aging memory technologies like DRAM is getting harder and memory is one of the big bottlenecks preventing computer performance from advancing at a faster rate.

Memristors are one of several options computer makers are exploring as a possible replacement. It could alter the architecture of today's computers, in which most data lives on hard drives and is fed to high-speed memory systems in batches as it's needed. With memristors, all data could be stored in memory where it's available for immediate use.

The new computing architecture requires a new operating system, so HP Labs is also working on the Machine OS, which apparently will be made open source.

The article doesn't say what types of workloads the Machine will run and HP didn't immediately provide more details. It plans to discuss the new system Wednesday afternoon at its customer conference in Las Vegas.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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