HP Moonshot – One Small Step For Micro Servers

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’s Moonshot modules impress Peter Judge – but don’t call them software-defined servers

The HP Moonshot launch was impressive, but it is just one small step for servers. Any giant leap is in the future plans for the micro-server family – and HP is hoping its Moonshot will have a longer and more sustained future than NASA’s 1970s Apollo landings.

HP’s first Atom-based unit is an impressive system, and people will find uses for it, but its role is really to prove the concept and pave the way for future modules that will colonise the data centre.

NASA’s Apollo 11 moonshot in 1969 had a similar role, but it was only followed by five other landings. There is no permanent base on the moon, and no one has been there for 40 years. HP is hoping for posterity to appreciate its efforts to a greater degree.

Is a low-power server enough?

The whole idea of Moonshot is low-energy servers packed in at high density. This version of Moonshot only goes part of the way to high density, as it features one Intel Atom processor in a module. Future cartridges will have ARM chips, and will increase the number of servers on the board to four. This iteration of Moonshot packs 45 servers in a 4.3U high module, so a somewhat non-standard 47U high rack can hold 450 servers – the future modules will have four times this. 

Londres, lancement du HP Moonshot 1500, par Paul Santeler

Today’s Moonshot modules are suitable for dedicated servers and static web pages – so it’s not for true cloud applications. There are applications which can benefit from this – if you have an Oracle database idling on a  half-utilised blade server, you can move to a lower-spec one more suited to its needs, Paul Santeler, vice president of the hyperscale business at HP (seen here unplugging a Moonshot switch module) told us. “”You could use 80 percent less power if 50 percent of the processing power is enough for your needs.”

HP has part of its website running on Moonshot servers. “It’s one sixth of the site, and it runs on 120W,” Santeler told us.

And, among the 50 firms testing Moonshot, cloud hosting and IaaS firm Carrenza had a ball setting up Moonshot to do part of the IT for Comic Relief. The firm set up 15 servers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux to process the addresses of donors so the charity could get income tax refunded as Gift Aid.

Yes, it did real business, processing millions of pounds and around 60 transactions per second. And Carrneza staff were impressed by how quickly it could be set up (all 15 servers in an hour and a quarter). But Carrenza CEO Dan Sutherland told TechWeekEurope that as it stands, this generation of Moonshot doesn’t actually meet the needs of any of his business for dynamic web hosting.

It does have very impressive switches, based on Broadcom silicon. The redundant switches combine to offer 3.6Tbps of capacity linking the servers through a backplane. There is plenty of room there for faster modules as they arrive.

HP Moonshot 1500Software defined – but not as we know it

The ARM version isn’t here yet, because there aren’t 64-bit ARM processors for it, but Calxeda has assured the world its Moonshot blades will be ready in the next six months. In London, Santeler also told us of other cartridges. Along with the servers, there are storage-only modules featuring two drives (hard drives or, in future, SSDs).

There will also be modules designed around systems-on-a-chip from Texas Instruments and other ARM partners. These might specialise in digital signal processing (DSP) and be useful to distribute telecoms functions to remote nodes on the phone network, Santeler said.

It’s like an application-specific server, and Santeler promised that if he got a big enough order from anyone he could make any kind of specialised server: “If you want it pink, I’ll spray paint it myself.”

Bizarrely, HP refers to this as “software defined servers”, when it is actually a different – and almost opposite – idea. In a software defined network generic hardware does different jobs. In HP’s Moonshot, server hardware is defined and specialised according to the software it will be running.

The difference between HP’s “software defined servers” and the “software defined network”  is like the difference between a man-eating shark and a man eating custard.

That’s in the marketing, though, and won’t determine the success or failure of Moonshot. By the time the future modules come out, the “software defined” buzzword may not be so hot.

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HP Moonshot Micro Server Launch

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HP Moonshot server cartr4idge

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