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HP launches Moonshot, chairman Lane

MoonshotRay Lane was brought in to Hewlett-Packard's board to refocus HP on the software marketplace. The company could see that the era of hardware margins was fast declining, and all of the highest hopes were aimed at the non-physical product. The actions to purchase Palm for its WebOS, as well as Autonomy for five times as much as that $2 billion, were the realization of a long-time HP dream.

Back in 1990 I rode a tour boat into San Francisco harbor. As a reporter for The Chronicle, I was being hosted for the HP CIMinar, where the CIM stood for Computer Integrated Manfacturing. Hewlett-Packard had a press liasion, Charlie Preston, who told me that the company pined for a day when it would manufacture little to nothing.

"It's all in software and services, Ron," he said. The boat was having a hardware failure at the time, a total loss of power within sight of the famous San Francisco Embarcadero Pier. While we bobbed and they kept filling our glasses, Charlie explained that the real power of computing was in services, aided by software. "In 10 years we don't want to be manufacturing much, including computers," he said.

One extra decade later, HP seems to be taking steps away from a virtual computer resource. Last week's exit of board director Ray Lane from the HP Chairman's seat seems proof enough that software has had its bumpy road of acquisitions. Hewlett-Packard didn't get its cart in the ditch without some risk-taking leadership. Lane arrived after years of Oracle work, savvy and a kingmaker. He remains on the HP board, but new leadership will be launching about the same time as the newest of HP hardware, the Moonshot servers.

These servers are evidence that HP R&D is still alive and striving to boost the company with proprietary advantages. This was the model that let the 3000 help the company get started in business computing.

The Moonshot 1500 -- yeah, half of the numeral used for MPE/iX hardware -- is driven by low-power, smartphone-caliber Atom chips, which usually go into mobile devices. A Moonshot is about the size of an envelope, and HP can pack hundreds of them together into a single system. It's a supercomputer that according to HP uses 89 percent less energy, takes up 80 percent less space, and costs 77 percent less than more traditional server designs. Whatever those are. It doesn't matter. HP is building servers again that don't mimic anything.

The HP Moonshot 1500 can work for the Web and cloud computing companies. Clouds need cheap, powerful hardware systems, and all along in HP's history that's been the golden chariot to carry software and spark services. Yes, applications drive enterprise choices. But app providers aim at platforms. The Moonshot represents HP's re-entry into an orbit that launched its enterprise computing business 40 years ago. Yup, with the HP 3000 and MPE/iX. If only there was software that HP had built itself that would make that hardware reach the stars. Maybe the company has that fuel somewhere in its legendary Labs.