HP embraces open hardware designs with Cloudline servers

HP adopts specifications from Open Compute Projects for its new line of low-cost servers

Hewlett-Packard is following in the footsteps of Facebook and Microsoft in embracing open hardware designs with its new low-cost Cloudline servers.

Cloudline servers are no-frills cloud servers that break away from proprietary technology HP uses in its popular Proliant servers. The servers are HP's first based on industry standard specifications defined by the Open Compute Project, which was founded by Facebook in 2012, and Open Networking Foundation, which was formed in 2011.

The use of low-cost, bare-bones servers is growing among Internet service providers like Google and Facebook, which are looking for a cheap and efficient ways to upgrade hardware in data centers. Cloudline gives HP a chance to pursue that customer base, said John Gromala, senior director of hyperscale product management.

These are also the first servers resulting from a partnership with China-based electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn. HP provides the server and supply chain expertise, while Foxconn provides the manufacturing expertise, Gromala said. The servers were announced in conjunction with the Open Compute Project Summit, which is being held in San Jose.

Cloudline servers will share specifications with server offerings from other companies using OCP's Open Rack and Open Cloud Server specifications. Microsoft contributed the Open Cloud Server specification to OCP. Servers designed to OCP specifications will allow companies to standardize on BIOS, component, systems management, storage and networking technologies. That's particularly beneficial for companies deploying hardware from different vendors or standardizing on open firmware, Gromala said.

Moreover, Cloudline servers could be cheaper than Proliant systems with proprietary technology. At a baseline, Cloudline prices could be 10 percent cheaper than Proliant systems, but depending on hardware configurations, the savings could go up to 25 percent. However, Gromala said Proliant servers could be cheaper than Cloudline servers with more customized networking and storage features.

The Cloudline servers are designed for open-source deployments of software like OpenStack, which deals with large data sets and is highly scalable. Some customized servers such as HP's Moonshot and CloudSystem offer specific advantages of being "end-to-end" servers where the hardware and software are configured to work in tandem, Gromala said.

Through the new Cloudline servers, HP hopes to take on a group of "white-box" server makers that includes Quanta and Inventec. Those companies make servers based on customer designs for companies such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon. HP also hopes to compete with smaller server makers like Inspur and Sugon, which build industry-standard low-cost x86 servers.

Gromala said that HP can bundle services and software with its hardware offerings, which the smaller competitors can't do.

The most basic Cloudline server is the CL1100, a low-cost two-socket server for Web hosting. The CL2100 and CL2200 are two-socket servers that offer more memory and storage capacity. The systems will ship starting on March 30, which is when HP will disclose pricing.

The CL7100 and CL7300 are meant for rack-level deployments of one- or two-socket servers with shared power and cooling resources. The servers, which will ship later this year, have more network and storage expansion capabilities than the CL1100, CL2100 and CL2200 servers.

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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