Is HP Moonshot Saving The Earth?

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

HP Moonshot uses less energy, says Paul Santeler. But will apps port across to it?

The HP Moonshot launch this week showed Hewlett-Packard’s micro-server vision for low-power computing. The announcement came with a strong environmental pitch: CEO Meg Whitman said these servers are needed to curb data centre energy bills and associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Is the green issue really important for Moonshot? At the launch, TechWeekEurope asked the vice president of hyperscale at HP, Paul Santeler, whether this is just greenwash. We also quizzed him on how easy it will be to port apps to the platform, and why HP is pitching the Moonshot cartridges as “software defined servers”.

HP Moonshot 1500A matter of definition

Why are Moonshot cartridges called “software defined servers? To us, that would imply general purpose hardware which can be used for different purposes according to the software it runs. But the plans we have seen are for application-specific servers, whose hardware is tuned for particular applications. Was this just a good buzzword?
No. You are thinking of a dynamic situation, where the software modifies the server. This is a more static situation, where the software defines the servers. We take the application and profile it. We see what hardware it needs to make it run successfully.

So, to go after the telco market for instance, you need a solution that has integrated DSPs [digital signature processors] and huge packing densities, with a certain amount of memory and a certain amount of I/O. That “defines” the product. It defines the hardware.

In a software defined network, the software defines the switch online – it is dynamically defined.

Now, there will come a time when we have dynamically defined servers. That’s a future vision which we see, but it’s still valid to call this generation software defined. The software defines the cartridges, which are designed for a particular app. It’s the application use case and the target market which determines the configuration.

So, it’s like the difference between a man-eating shark and a man eating custard?
Which of those is right? They both are!

We have been told of two use cases for the first version. The first is hosting, where users want static servers…
… and Marc told you that 90 percent of his customers want a dedicated server [Marc Burkels, manager of dedicated hosting at LeaseWeb, spoke at the Moonshot launch]. If those customers have a server that is idling, they can have a micro server which uses 80 percent less power and solves their problems [if they only need 50 percent of the capacity]. 

The second use case is static web front ends. Dynamic web sites require more computing power, which we will get with future cartridges, but static web sites are the majority of web sites in the world right now.

A static web site might be something like a restaurant with its menu online. That page is the same, wherever you are. You can have simple dynamic web sites which show ads based on who you are, but if you totally recreate the page for every user, that needs more computing power.

HP is using Moonshot as a cache hit server on our site. We are running one sixth of the HP website on 120 Watts of power.

How green is my Moonshot?

Meg.Whitman2010APUsing low power is a key promise for Moonshot that HP CEO Meg Whitman spoke a lot about. Is the environmental argument for Moonshot really important?
A new data centre uses as much energy as 250,000 European homes. And if you added together all the data centres in the world, and rated them as a country, that country would be number five in the world for energy use. And energy use is growing exponentially. That’s what Meg is talking about.

To build data centres at our current rate we would have to plough over states. We cannot use energy this efficiently. Meg says “If we don’t do anything, guys, it is not sustainable.”

Most of the energy is being wasted because the servers are running such a low CPU utilisation, which Moonshot addresses

Will apps move to Moonshot?
I think there will be a host of new applications. for instance, telcos are seeing the data wave going on. They need to move the towers closer to the users, and they are seeing a fundamental architectural shift in their business.

Some servers will run existing applications. But some will open up completely new applications. You can’t just think about existing data centres. The expectations of customers are becoming totally different.

Will there be any trouble moving applications?

In Moonshot, you  are moving away from traditional x86 family processors to servers based on chips designed for mobile devices – ARM-based chips from the likes of AMD and Calxeda, and the Atom, which comes from Intel but has some compatibility issues. Will these servers run the code, and will it be a problem to port it across and deploy the software?
No. There is no porting problem.  The only difference is our implementation is headless. But Microsoft Windows Server 2012 runs in true headless mode. Linux always runs in a headless mode. There is no porting difficulty from any x86 CPU.

The bigger issue is typically deployment. Do you have deployment tools, and does it PXE boot [using the Pre-eXecution Environment]?

When we sent out our Moonshot system betas, we sent out a support person to help deploy it. But Carrenza [another user at the launch] got it running before our guys got there, and said “We don’t need you”.

When you get to ARM, that’s different. To make ARM successful, you need an ecosystem. One of the things we are doing is delivering a shrink-wrapped operating system. That’s important because we wanted a good experience.

The whole goal is that the operating system support ARM and makes it work.

Linux is different to compiled Windows code. Typically it is interpreted code. As long as you can provide a complete LAMP stack – Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP – with Java as well, most of these applications just work.

People say there’s a lot of porting – but that’s if you port Windows apps to Linux. Take existing Linux apps and run them, and that’s a different story.

Microsoft will have to decide if they are going to port Windows Server to ARM. You can see they have done this with the Windows client, but it’s a decision for Microsoft.

Dan Sutherland, CEO of web hosting and IaaS firm Carrenza was very enthusiastic about using Moonshot  and tested a system as part of his firm’s live support of the Red Nose Day charity telethon. But he later told TechWeekEurope that his customers aren’t serving static web pages, and there wasn’t any part of his existing customer base that would need the current Moonshot products. does that bother you?
This is just the first cartridge. Every new cartridge will open up a new workload. Once people start kicking the tyres they will say this solves a problem I didn’t even know I had.

This is a leading edge product – it’s the scale-up hardware where next-generation databases are heading. And next-generation databases look very different from today’s databases.

HP Moonshot Micro Server Launch

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HP Moonshot server cartr4idge

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