ANALYSIS & OPINION

Can HP redefine server design?

14 April 2014



Can HP’s new energy-efficient Moonshot server architecture redefine server design? If it can, getting to grips with the customer’s workflow will be the key to success, was the viewpoint from Hewlett Packard executives at a press event held at HP’s labs in Grenoble in the south of France on 7 April. 

The Moonshot line of servers, which was launched last year, uses a new energy-efficient, modular design for its cartridges. HP has 110 patents protecting the technology. 

‘One of the main trends in servers today is to focus on convergent systems, often provided by a single vendor, in which hardware and software are able to better support the application and the workflow of customers,’ Susan Blocher, HP’s vice president, Moonshot marketing and business development, said at the conference. This theme ran throughout the event, that the workload describes the way the systems are constructed in order to reduce costs, but also keep performance exactly where it is needed. 

Moonshot servers offer energy efficiency through a workload defined approach. Each server is designed to fulfil the demands of a specific workload meaning that it only requires the processing power necessary to deliver that specific workload. This makes for more efficient design of the server cartridges. This energy efficiency is compounded by HP’s use of hardware. Moonshot cartridges use small processors with low power requirements such as Intel Atom S1260, the AMD Opteron X2150 APU or the ARM Cortex A15 CPU. 

‘It’s a new style of computing and HP has 110 patents on the cartridge,’ said Blocher. ’The technology is what would typically be found in mobile devices such as phones.’ With up to four servers per cartridge Moonshot can pack up to 180 servers into a single chassis. 

To let customers trial the technology, HP has also established the Moonshot Discovery Labs in Grenoble whereby clients can set up demos from anywhere by connecting to pre-designed Proof-Of-Concept (POC) demonstrations undertaken using Moonshot server configurations. 

‘The mission of the High Performance Computing and Moonshot Discovery Labs is to support innovative projects for clients in the EMEA area. The approach takes into account not only the solutions, but also the needs of each company, to create real opportunities for customers, with the support of HP,’ said Jean-Jacques Braun, director of HPC and Moonshot Discovery Labs. 

The labs provide access to proof-of-concept demonstrations both on and off site through online access to Moonshot servers. This is designed to let customers see the performance of the servers in real-time applications, explained Olivier Frank sales manager for Moonshot in the EMEA. There are a number of active POC’s currently available including hyperscale systems and HPC. The specialised HDI Moonshot cartridge (m700) is being trialled in Europe, including France and Denmark with a number of POCs available for customers to trial new ideas and configurations of the technology. 

In order for Moonshot to really be successful HP needs to make these servers popular for customers that buy in high volume. HP must also be able to adapt to the changing workloads and applications that its customers require. This is because Moonshot cartridges have very specific limitations due to their workload-based design. 

MyLoc, a web hosting company based in Germany, spoke at the event about its experience using the new servers. The company operates three carrier-neutral data centres with a total area of 2,500m2 in Düsseldorf hosting up to 12,500 servers in its data centres. The staff at MyLoc worked with HP to design a solution with more memory per server as the m700 cartridge was seen as being too restrictive in terms of hard drive space ‘Four servers in one m700 cartridge (180 per Moonshot) is great, but only 32GB disk space was a big problem for us,’ said Christoph Herrnkind COO of MyLoc. 

The solution was to address the storage issue by using a SL4500 which was added to the configuration. The SL4500 provided enough storage for MyLoc’s needs and the company ordered its first batch of Moonshot servers in March 2014 consisting of a mix of Moonshot cartridges and the added storage provided by the SL4500. 

A Moonshot server consists of HPs chassis design which can fit up to 45 Moonshot cartridges in a single server. The chassis contains two high-density, low-power HP Moonshot 45G switch modules each with a 10gx6 6SFP uplink module which handles network communications for all the cartridges in the chassis. The cartridges are software-defined servers optimised for the lightweight workloads such as Web serving, cloud, hosted desktop infrastructure, media transcoding, gaming, and VoIP/LTE. 

The m700 server cartridge is powered by a quad-core AMD Opteron X2150 processor with a built-in graphics accelerator. It offers more robust graphics capabilities than other Moonshot cartridges making it the most suitable for hosted desktop infrastructure (HDI) applications. 

The m800 server cartridge is designed for VoIP/LTE for telecommunications or lightweight seismic processing for oil and gas discovery because of its four Texas Instruments KeyStone II-based 66AK2H system-on-chip (SOC) servers. The m800 features four ARM Cortex A-15 cores and eight C66x digital signal processor (DSP) cores per processor. 

Blocher commented: ‘HP is investing more and more to accelerate the new direction that characterises today's new style of IT, in which the cloud, mobility, social business and big data are the trends that address the needs of customers.’ 

Related internet links

HP Moonshot