HP Looks to Shake Off Funk With Moonshot

HP Enterprise group chief Dave Donatelli with Moonshot Server

HP Enterprise group chief Dave Donatelli with Moonshot Server

Hewlett-Packard Co.’s release party Monday for their hyperscale Moonshot servers — a somewhat noisy affair to trumpet the availability of a product conceived in 2011 and described in fits and starts for much of the past year – was filled with references to HP’s desire to help save the planet.

The real question for partners is whether Moonshot can help save the struggling vendor.

From a technology standpoint, there’s quite a bit to like about these little cartridge-style servers that run on processors more often associated with smartphones and tablets than with heavy-duty enterprise computing. The tiny modular servers represent a significant advancement in data center technology taking up 80 percent less space, sipping 89 percent less energy and costing about a 77 percent less than a tradition general-purpose server.

In addition to being smaller, cheaper, and greener, the beauty of the moonshots is that they are fine-tuned for specific applications. First out of the gate are HP ProLiant Moonshot 1500 servers powered by Intel Corp.’s Atom S1200 processor designed specifically for web hosting and cloud computing applications. A single 4.3-rack unit enclosure houses 45 Moonshot cartridges along with an integrated network switch and supporting components for around $62,000.

Future iterations of Moonshots will feature a variety of x86 and ARM-based processor from a number of partners including Intel, AMD, AppliedMicro, Calxeda and Texas Instruments. Each “software-defined” server will serve a specific purpose in support of Big Data, high-performance computing, gaming, financial services, genomics, facial recognition, and video analysis among other applications, officials said.

HP executives made frequent reference to the Moonshot servers’ ability to solve problems associated with the exponential global proliferation of servers to support ever expanding cloud, mobility, social networking and analytics applications. The space and power needed to house and run enough conventional servers to satisfy growing data center demands are approaching unsustainable levels. All of which gave the Moonshot release an air of altruism.

“With nearly 10 billion devices connected to the internet and predictions for exponential growth, we’ve reached a point where the space, power and cost demands of traditional technology are no longer sustainable,” said HP CEO Meg Whitman in a launch webcast. “HP Moonshot marks the beginning of a new style of IT that will change the infrastructure economics and lay the foundation for the next 20 billion devices.”

To prove the point, HP executive vice president of technology and operations, John Hinshaw said the company is using the new Atom-powered Moonshots to run HP.com on roughly the amount of power needed to light a dozen 60-watt light bulbs.

That’s cool. But what HP and its partners need most right now, however, is not philanthropy or green initiatives, but a big technology win for a vendor increasingly associated with flagging sales of legacy products, miserable acquisitions, and executive leadership turmoil.

In the vendor’s most recent financial reporting, revenues in HP’s Enterprise Group fell 4 percent to $7 billion despite a slight 4-percent uptick in networking sales. The boost wasn’t enough to overcome a precipitous drop of 24 percent year over year in BCS sales.

HP partners tell Channelnomics that the internal instability at HP is affecting their ability to take their products to market or coordinate activities. Simultaneously, HP’s competitors are stepping up displacement and disruption campaigns, looking to capitalize on HP’s missteps and follies.

Rival Dell Inc., for example has said expressly that it wants to overtake HP’s narrow lead in global server shipments. According to Gartner, HP’s fourth quarter market share was 26.5 percent to Dell’s 21.3 percent.

How these vendors engage their channel will determine the outcome of such a tight horserace, and the Moonshot will be a significant post entry. In the short term, the hyperscale Moonshots will likely be of far more interest to service providers serving up multi-tenant hosted applications than they will be to the enterprise, where the benefits of massive scalability won’t be immediately evident. That will give the channel additional incentive to root for Moonshot’s success.

It’s encouraging to listen to an hour-long HP presentation almost entirely focused on the thing that made the Palo Alto, Calif., company great: disruptive innovation. This is the company, after all, that originated the x86 server and kicked off the next wave of data center evolution with its introduction of the blade server 10 years later. Criticism that a distracted HP wasn’t spending enough on research and development may have been premature, given the impressive nature of this latest offering.

Now it will be up to HP and its partners to turn Moonshot into something as astronomically important as the project’s name suggests.