HP launches Moonshot servers amid challenges

  • HP unveils new line of servers aimed at tackling lightweight but frequent tasks; bets on web server market to fuel uptake
  • Analysts still uncertain if Moonshot will get HP back on track; weak compelling case to turn customers away from ODMs

HEWLETT-Packard (HP) Malaysia has launched a new line of servers which it claims will help the data center and cloud infrastructure service provider industries lower their total cost of operations -- by reducing the expenditure incurred through server space rental and power consumption, among other savings.
 
Speaking to the media on April 16, Thiyagu Letchumanan, managing director of HP Malaysia, claimed that the Moonshot server system consumes 89% less energy , uses 80% less space and costs 77% less than traditional x86-based servers with equivalent specifications.
 
HP launches Moonshot servers amid challengesThiyagu (pic) said one of the challenges for many businesses today is that they have to face an unrelenting amount of unstructured data – data that does not fit neatly into row and columns – in their operations.
 
Together with the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and laptop computers, which produce and consume this unstructured data, this phenomenon is bringing new challenges to data center service providers, telecommunication operators and even the financial service industries (FSIs), he added.
 
“We’ve reached a point where the space, power and cost demands of traditional technology are no longer sustainable,” Thiyagu said. “This is why HP has created this new line of servers – to meet the industry’s need.”
 
When asked if there were any independent verification of the cost saving claims made by HP, Thiyagu said that all the figures quoted came out of testing initiated internally only within HP.
 
The new HP Moonshot is the second-generation server from HP’s Project Moonshot.
 
The first of four lines of servers to appear in the market comprises a HP Moonshot 1500 4,3u enclosure and application-optimized HP ProLiant Moonshot server, and is based on Intel’s low-cost, low-processing power, the S1200 Atom processor.
 
The HP Moonshot 1500 is fully equipped with 45 Intel-based servers, one network switch and supporting components, and will be available in Asia in mid-May, company officials said.
 
In the coming months, three more Moonshot 1500 servers will become available and will be based on more powerful chipsets, which will be designed to serve other more demanding industries in the FSIs and telco space, supporting applications such as analytics, gaming, dedicated and virtual hosting.
 
Asked why the first line of servers is based on the lower-specification Atom chip, Vincent Lee, country manager, industry standard servers, HP Malaysia, pointed out that these servers are targeted at a very specific industry – web server-based companies.
 
“This first batch of servers is designed for web hosting service providers, which will require a lot less power, memory and disk space to run,” he said. "This is why we have chosen to use the Atom as the processor of choice as it will mostly serve web hosting front ends.”
 
HP launches Moonshot servers amid challengesLee (pic) confirmed that in the coming months, HP is expected to unveil other Moonshot servers based on more powerful chipsets, but declined to reveal what kind of processors HP will end up using.
 
“Besides Intel, our other silicon partners include AMD, Calxeda, Cavium, and Texas Instruments, amongst others,” he said.
 
When asked how HP will convince existing customers to switch over to these new lines of servers, Thiyagu pointed to the fact that customers today are at various phases in their upgrade cycles and these are the likely ones that will consider the Moonshot product.
 
“Besides this, the savings figures speak for themselves, and we are confident that we have the right solutions that can address their growing concerns about the increasing cost of ownership.”
 
Lee added, “Let’s be clear; the Moonshot [line of servers] will not replace traditional servers as they are designed to meet a specific need. Traditional servers will still host certain applications.
 
“As for our plan to support our customers’ transition process, we will be offering these servers to our customers as a proof of concept for them to evaluate the savings gained for themselves.”
 
Analysts weigh in
 
The launch of the Moonshot servers in the United States last week on April 8 comes off the back of a very difficult time for the former largest maker of computers in the world.
 
Beginning August 2010, the once Silicon Valley darling went through a tumultuous time, beginning with the dismissal of its then CEO Mark Hurd on the heels of sexual harassment charges by a former HP contractor.
 
Hurd’s successor Leo Apotheker survived only about a year in the hot seat as his decision to radically shift HP into a software and services company with an emphasis on enterprise, commercial and government markets did not go down well with the market.
  
Apotheker also tried spinning off HP’s most profitable business arm – its PC division -- into a separate company, a move that antagonized shareholders and investors. He was later replaced in 2011 by eBay’s former CEO Meg Whitman, who now has the reins as CEO.
 
Whitman has been trying to steer HP into smoother waters but she is now faced with a massive US$8.8 billion writedown on the value of Autonomy Corporation, a British-based software analytics firm it acquired in 2011 under Apotheker's watch.
 
HP launches Moonshot servers amid challengesThe Moonshot server (pic) launch last week itself was also met with mixed reactions from analysts with some questioning if the introduction of such a server would attract the right customers.
 
Tech Republic’s Nick Heath asked if companies which HP is trying to reach with its Moonshot line of servers would bite, given that these are the very same companies that design their own data centers and build them via original design manufacturers (ODMs).
 
“The question remains as to how tempting Moonshot's systems will be and whether the web giants like Facebook and Google — arguably the companies with the largest demands for the hyperscale workloads [workloads the Moonshot was design] for — will be buying Moonshot servers,” he wrote in ZDNet UK.
 
Shaw Wu of Sterne Agee shared the same sentiment. Acknowledging that while Moonshot is a “step in the right direction,” he questioned whether large web companies would be persuaded to buy from HP rather than have their own custom servers built for them.
 
“We are not sure if big customers including Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Twitter would switch from their current models where they procure customized server and storage components from Quanta and Compal,” he commented on tech blog AllThingsD.
 
On whether Moonshot could contribute to saving HP from further decline, Wu said, “We believe the company’s turnaround remains tough as it needs to be seen whether its enterprise efforts are enough to offset continued challenges in its PC, printer, and services businesses.”
 
Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy, was a little more bullish, noting that the most interesting thing about the Moonshot line is not the fact that it uses less energy or takes up less space than conventional servers, but that it works with all sorts of different chips to attack the computing job at hand.
 
“Yes, it supports conventional CPU chips like Intel’s Atom and ARM-based server chips like those from Calxeda, but also GPU chips from Nvidia; digital signal processor chips like those made by Texas Instruments; and field-programmable gate arrays, the software-defined chips turned out by companies like Altera and Xilinx,” he said on AllThingsD.

“This gives it ‘the potential to change the game in scale-out data centers’,” he added.

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