HP gives Moonshot server its first Xeon chip

The ProLiant m710 is designed for application delivery and video transcoding

If Hewlett-Packard's Moonshot server doesn't pan out, it won't be for lack of trying.

Its engineers have been hard at work this year adding various different CPU options for Moonshot, which uses a novel design to reduce energy and space requirements and is a big part of CEO Meg Whitman's effort to get HP back on track.

Just last month, HP released a Moonshot system with a 64-bit ARM processor, becoming the first vendor to offer such a chip in a server. And on Thursday HP released its first Moonshot server with an Intel Xeon chip.

The company already offered a version with Intel's low-power Atom processor, and Xeon now provides an option for customers who want a bit more compute muscle.

Called the Moonshot ProLiant m710, the server uses a quad-core Xeon with the catchy name of E3-1284L v3. The chip also has an integrated GPU to make light work of graphics.

Like other Moonshot servers, the m710 is tuned to run one or two workloads particularly well, in this case application delivery and video transcoding -- both tasks that benefit from the integrated GPU, said Gerald Kleyn, director of Moonshot R&D.

For applications delivery, HP worked with Citrix to use its XenApp software, which can stream Office applications and other programs to users. The m710 ships as bare metal and customers will need to buy licenses for XenApp and for Windows Server 2012, the supported OS. HP provides the documentation to tell them how to set it up.

For the video encoding, HP is offering media software from Vantrix and Harmonic. Broadcasters will be able to serve up to 20 times as many video streams as they can with a standard rack server occupying the same space, according to HP.

It achieves this from Moonshot's dense design. Each server is a small cartridge that slots into the Moonshot chassis. With shared power and cooling supplies, and tightly integrated network interface cards and switches, HP crams 45 cartridges into a chassis 4.3 rack units, or 7.5 inches, high. That's a lot of servers in a small space.

A second Moonshot system announced Thursday, the m350, is aimed at managed hosting providers and is HP's densest system yet. Each cartridge contains four Atom C2730 eight-core processors, for a total of 1,440 cores in a chassis.

One final product uses existing hardware but with new software. HP released the Atom-based m300 earlier this year and expected customers to use it for one part of their Web application tier, the Web server. But some customers put their entire Web stack in the box, including Web server, load balancing and database.

So HP is now bundling in the software for that task, including Canonical's Ubuntu OS, Juju and Charms software. Another option runs Red Hat Enterprise Linux, with a special license price HP negotiated for use on Atom processors, Kleyn said.

After a slow start getting Moonshot off the ground, HP has moved quickly to offer systems for numerous types of workload. It claims Moonshot consumes up to 90 percent less energy and 80 percent less space compared to old-fashioned "pizza box" rack servers.

But it's still not clear if customers will bite in the volumes HP will need to make continued development of Moonshot worthwhile. Whitman has said it will be next year before Moonshot starts delivering meaningful sales for HP, and it must now sell them at a time when it's splitting the company in two.

Its engineers continue to plug away, however, and HP is giving it all the energy it can muster.

"We haven't stopped investing, and clearly HP is bullish about Moonshot," Kleyn said.

The Xeon-based ProLiant m710 is priced starting from US$55,147; the m300 starts at $48,937, and the m350 at $85,372. The prices include 15 server cartridges, one chassis, a switch and three power supplies, and some other components and software.

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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