HP's Moonshot server now packs 64-bit ARM chips

HP is offering the chips as one of the options on a server that can handle different architectures

It's been a long road getting there but Hewlett-Packard has become the first major vendor to add a 64-bit ARM server to its price list.

HP has added a 64-bit ARM chip as one of the options for Moonshot, a new type of server from HP that can accommodate different chip architectures to address specific workloads.

Customers can now buy Moonshot with Applied Micro's ARM-based X-Gene system-on-chip, in a server aimed at customers running web caching applications such as memecache, as well as high performance computing workloads that require high throughput.

HP is also offering a 32-bit ARM option from Texas instruments with an integrated DSP chip. That system is designed for processing complex data streams at high volume in real time, allowing for work such as hunting down fraud in e-commerce networks.

The ARM options join the Moonshot systems based on x86 processors that HP has already been selling.

ARM CPUs are more commonly used in smartphones and tablets, but proponents say their low power consumption makes them good for building servers that consume little energy and pack a lot of compute power in a small space -- the main selling points for Moonshot.

A few other vendors, notably Dell, have built 64-bit ARM-based servers for particular customers, but HP is the first big vendor that's selling one as a standard product. Customers can order the systems starting Monday and HP will ship them throughout October, said Gerald Kleyn, director of Moonshot R&D.

PayPal is using the X-Gene servers in production for data analysis, he said, and Sandia National Laboratories is using them for a high performance computing application that they'll discuss at ARM's TechCon conference this week.

HP first talked about putting ARM chips in Moonshot three years ago, but it switched gears soon after and the first systems, introduced last year, were based on Intel Atom processors. Soon after, its initial ARM partner, Calxeda, went out of business, partly because the ARM server market was moving too slowly.

It's taken longer than some expected for the 64-bit ARM servers to get to market, but many pieces have had to fall in place, including software that will run on the ARM architecture.

That software is still fairly limited, but that's OK since most companies will use them for specific tasks where the low power use and high density can pay off, Kleyn said.

The new Moonshot servers ship with Canonical's Ubuntu Linux pre-installed, as well as a stack of software from ngnix that includes memecache and other web programs, he said. IBM's Informix is also offered as an option - the only commercial database currently available for Moonshot..

HP is also giving developers remote access to 64-bit ARM systems in its labs so that they can develop more software.

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, thinks ARM processors, as well as new system designs like Moonshot, have a lot of potential. Data centers are hitting capacity limits and they'll be forced to experiment with more energy- and space-efficient platforms, he said.

But they're not for any workload. "Moonshot is for people with very clear ideas about specific use cases," he said.

The new Moonshot systems pack a lot of compute power in a small space.

The chassis for all Moonshot systems is 4.3 rack units (7.5 inches) tall and can house up to 45 processor boards, or what HP calls "cartridges," with shared cooling, network, storage and other components to maximize density. Each cartridge is basically its own mini server.

The X-Gene cartridge, called the Proliant m400, comes with up to 64GB memory attached, as well as a small form factor SSD at 120GB or 480GB, and a dual-port 10 Gigabit network interface card from Melanox -- the first time HP has included 10GB Ethernet with Moonshot. An m400 Moonshot system starts at about $58,000, including 15 cartridges, one networking switch and three power supplies, HP said.

The m800 system using Texas Instruments' 32-bit Keystone based system-on-chip starts at $81,651 with 15 cartridges, one networking switch, 32GB of m.2 storage and 4 power supplies.

Both the m400 and the m800 are immediately available, HP said.

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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