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HP tolls bell for penultimate enterprise OS

How shooting off Moonshot can hit your IT

Moonshot-125x94Some HP 3000 customers are making a migration from a small installation. But for others, their systems are as big as MPE will let them become -- and those sites need even greater computing power. Power is a crucial element in the HP Moonshot server, whose 1500 chassis is a hot topic at this week's HP Discover conference.

HP is making the technology behind smartphones -- one IT manager calls those toys -- shoulder the load of serving up massive websites, or perform financial analysis. Any application with a growing base of users and the need for horsepower that will scale, independent of power needs, might be a good fit for Moonshot. Or as HP calls the product on the server's website, the HP ProLiant Moonshot Server. Look a little harder at this server and you'll see an x86 architecture that's driven by Intel's Atom processors. Atom has a life inside mobile devices like Lenovo and Motorola Android phones.

ShootmoonNot exactly the top tier of phone makers. Apple makes its own A6x. Many other phone makers use ARM chips. In a way, the Atom processor in the Moonshot is a repurposing of the CPU. Atom was built to burn less than 10 watts of power at a peak. HP says the Moonshot chews up 89 percent less energy than the same compute power driven by Intel's Xeon family, or the Intel Itanium. You know, the traditional servers.

HP's not aiming Moonshot at small to medium businesses. When its website says "Shop for Moonshot" you don't go to a Build To Order menu like you can for other ProLiant servers. "Find a reseller," it says underneath. 

HP started building the Moonshot line in its labs four years ago. That was an era when R&D got no love at HP, but Moonshot stayed on target anyway. This was HP's entry into ultra-dense computing. For many customers relying on MPE, that's just a buzzword. But ultra-dense computers address a common 3000 need: reduced use of energy, in a small footprint, and cheaper than tradition. You have to go back to the 3000's Mighty Mouse Series 37, or the Series 918 PA-RISC server, to find something comparable in impact.

HP is not entering this orbit early. IBM has been in the ultra-dense and software-defined server market far longer. But there's a need for something to drive big sites like web hosting companies, social networking providers and video warehouses without burning countless kilowatt hours. HP CEO Meg Whitman said that the equivalent in traditional servers could use as much power as 20,000 homes to keep up when applications scale up.

But that's at the high end of concerns. For someone who manages 3000s and thinks, as one IT manager wrote us,

If I could put a Moonshot in a workgroup of 8 or 10 people, and connect them to it with thin clients or  Windows terminals, and call it their workgroup server, then I could significantly shrink the datacenter.

Not really what the server is built for, sadly. We're talking thousands of people in a workgroup. Running something that wants to be Facebook or Twitter, but is not yet. Or serving video like YouTube. But the sweet promise of Moonshot is that being software-defined, its something that enterprises can optimize based on specific workload needs.

As it has for a long time, HP is showing off its large-scale system offerings to medium-scale customers. Because everybody wants to be bigger. One way to do that is to use something smaller, like an ARM processor or even Intel's Atom, the latter being IA-32 and x86-64 compatible. The processors from those toys are gathering in racks of 1,000 to make high horsepower computing -- perhaps on the horizon for a migrator -- cost less and draw less power and footprint.