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TBT: The Rise of Superdome to Blades

Earlier today, a 3000 manager asked if the Moonshot line of HP servers was part of the plans to establish the Charon HPA PA-RISC emulator in the community. "I think it would be great if someone would demonstrate MPE/iX running on HP Moonshot server," said Tim O'Neill. "[Stromasys might be using] Charon to do something like this, but are they doing it on a Moonshot?"

Univ of Utah CloudLabMoonshot is not the best fit for the Stromasys product, because the HP bladed server is aimed at far larger processing needs. The targets for Moonshot are providers of networking services, cloud hosting co-location providers, customers as large as PayPal, and 20th Century Fox. The studio now distributes its movies around the world digitally, movies that are hundreds of gigabytes per file, and it reduced its datacenter footprint by more than 80 percent and sends those files 40 percent faster.

HP SuperdomeIt's not that the movie business didn't ever use MPE; Warner Brothers had a European distribution center for movies that used a 3000, but that was back in the day when canisters of 35mm film were shipped to theaters. Evoking the name Moonshot, however, recalls the hope that the 3000 community held for HP's first massive enterprise server, Superdome,15 years ago.

SuperdomeArticle20150423The first Superdome computers were PA-RISC systems that ran with the same PA-8600 and PA-8700 servers that powered HP 3000s. When HP started to talk about Superdome in the months after Y2K, 3000 customers wondered "Why not us?" as part of the product's target audience.

An IT manager with beta-test experience on Superdome said at HP World that he believes there’s no reason Superdome can’t work with MPE/iX. “It’s PA-RISC hardware,” he said. “I asked our technical contact from HP why it wouldn’t run with MPE. He replied to me, ‘Yes, why wouldn’t it run MPE?’ ” In a future version, the computer will use its advanced partitioning to run more than one operating environment at once, according to HP’s presentations.

Five years ago this week, HP announced at the HP Technology@Work 2010 conference the first server technology that bridged the multiple-processor designs of Superdome into the blade server concept that would become Moonshot. Even more so than the original Superdome, the Superdome 2 had zero chance of becoming an MPE/iX hardware host, because by the Spring of that year HP was counting down the months until it stopped MPE support completely. (Officially, anyway. Right up to this month, rumors are floating that HP is supporting customer 3000s somewhere.)

Multiple operating systems, supported on a single HP system, were the innovation HP added to its enterprise lineup with the first Superdome. HP said it was designed to support multiple OS's simultaneously, including HP-UX, Windows NT and something Hewlett-Packard called "the freely distributed Linux operating system."

Supporting two different OS's on a single HP server was a project that went back to 1994 at HP. The Multiple Operating System Technology (MOST) was designed to let MPE/iX control instances of HP-UX on one PA-RISC server. Reaching for performance even on the biggest CPUs of 21 years ago was a problem — but one other MOST challenge was the competition between HP 9000 Unix salespeople and the HP 3000 sales force.

When Superdome was first announced, HP already understood there was going to be no single operating environment to rule all enteprise computing. "Technology is changing so fast, that to bet a business on a proprietary technology, or on a single technology, commits an IT environment to becoming a legacy environment," said CEO Carly Fiorina.

Should there ever be any interest in demonstrating the top power of Moonshot, HP operates a lab system that sounds a lot like the old Invent3K servers hosted to 3000 developers. The HP Discovery Lab allows customers and partners unfettered access to an HP Moonshot System to experiment, test and benchmark applications in a secure and confidential environment. Labs are located in Purdue University in Indiana, Houston, Texas, Grenoble, France and Singapore. Developers can also gain access to a Discovery Lab through VPN from anywhere in the world.