Why Did The IBM VP Board HP’s Moonshot?

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Susan Blocher was marketing IBM’s PureSystems, till she decided to jump to HP’s Moonshot programme. What was the attraction?

Tech giants like IBM, HP and Dell are struggling to re-invent themselves as computing becomes a commodity. But IBM and HP have very different approaches to keeping the emphasis on hardware.

HP showed off its flagship, the Moonshot programme, at the Discovery Labs in Grenoble, France last week. We were surprised to discover that the senior HP spokesman there, Susan Blocher, had only recently jumped ship from IBM’s hardware flagship, PureSystems. We had to ask her why she moved across.

susan blocher HP VP moonshot marketing and business developmentMoonshot is a startup

She starts by stressing the two programmes are not in competition. IBM’s PureSystems consist of converged hardware, including legacy mainframes, while HP’s Moonshot is new hardware, that offers large numbers of small servers in simplified packaging.

“PureSystems are wonderful solutions,” she told TechWeekEurope. “I can only speak very highly of them. But they are converged systems, and Moonshot isn’t a converged system.”

Both profess to provide hardware tailored for specific software, like Big Data and web applications emerging in the new style of computing. But they do it in different ways.

PureSystems incorporates legacy equipment, in the form of mainframes and Unix servers, which Blocher admits have “advantages and disadvantages”. In contrast, Moonshot started from a clean slate, and HP has treated it, she says, “like a startup”.

“The hardware didn’t influence my decision,” she told us. “It was a really interesting marketing opportunity. It was promising to me that HP created an entire business unit dedicated to Moonshot: that told me that HP is taking this seriously, and making the investment they need to make this work.”

Blocher had run the marketing in various parts of IBM’s empire including China and Saudi Arabia, and this felt like an interesting challenge. It was, she said, “a chance to test my mettle”.

HP Moonshot Discovery LabResults come slowly

Actual customers for Moonshot are coming through rather slowly, she acknowledged: “Whenever you bring a disruptive technology like this into the market, there is this time required before our customers have vetted it deeply enough to really be comfortable bringing it into production environments.”

That’s why HP runs four “Discovery Labs” to test Moonshot – two in the US, one in Singapore and one in Grenoble. It’s also why the company was very keen to show them off to journalists. “Having Discovery Labs has been a crucial step forward, to get proofs of concept run,” she said.

Moonshot, she emphasised, is based around the trend towards systems which combine hardware and software to support specific workloads, and the fact that this hardware has to operate on a tighter power budget.

“Power consumption, and those green data centre elements – it’s not a new concern, but it is still as painful today as ever,” she said. At the same time the hardware has to support what HP calls a “new style of computing”, based on the cloud, Big Data and mobile apps.

“The real comparison is how much compute does it use to support a workload,” she said. “Moonshot cartridges are even smaller than blades, and we can fit up to four servers on a single cartridge by using system-on-a-chip (SoC) processors. We also build the chassis so it includes the power, cooling and storage as a shared service, rather than having to build everything into every server.”

This results in a simpler system, and one which can run cooler for any given compute power. “Look at the back of a rack,” she said. “With a traditional system, the cabling is really complex. With Moonshot, you cable just the chassis, so you connect 45 to 180 servers with virtually no cabling.”

[The gallery below includes pictures of the cabling in a traditional rack and a Moonshot rack, taken at HP’s Discovery Lab – Editor]

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HP Labs Grenoble Moonshot

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Moonshot at the HP Grenoble Labs
HP's Moonshot is a new design. Potential users (and journalists) can kick its tyres at HP's labs in Grenoble