Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) just had its most innovative moment in years. How do we know this? Well, the company has ushered forth a new creation under the Project Moonshoot banner, created a scripted webcast to accompany the product, and even had guys who would normally wear suits dress down in sports coats and jeans to model the product, thus underscoring its hipness.
HP has built is a new server—the HP Moonshot 1500. It’s special because it runs on Intel’s (INTC) low-power Atom chips, which usually go into mobile devices. As a result, HP has been able to design an entire computer server that’s about the size of an envelope and then pack hundreds of these together into a single system that basically functions as an ultracompact supercomputer. According to HP’s stats, the new server uses 89 percent less energy, takes up 80 percent less space, and costs 77 percent less than more traditional server designs.
The HP Moonshot 1500 both is and isn’t revolutionary. To its credit, HP has pushed compact server designs to the extreme and crammed an awful lot of computing power in a small amount of space. This type of system has been designed for Web and cloud computing companies that tend to buy thousands upon thousands of servers and need them to run as efficiently as possible. By using smartphone/tablet chips instead of beefier server chips, HP has provided a product that can handle the lightweight task of feeding up Web pages without consuming a lot of electricity. (Such a server would not be as well suited to, say, processing millions of transactions or large calculations.)
The problem here is that most of the Web giants, such as Amazon.com (AMZN), Facebook (FB), Microsoft (MSFT) and Google (GOOG), already design their own servers and have an Asian contract manufacturer produce them. So HP is to some degree catering to a market that it has already lost to lower-cost rivals.
HP, though, might have a strong play if you look longer term. It’s basically betting that more traditional companies will come to want and need similar computing systems as the Web giants. HP has developed its own networking, storage, and software technology to make the Moonshot 1500 operate well as a collective whole, so that customers without a ton of internal engineering expertise can still use such a complex system.
What’s more, HP plans to bring out systems later this year that use ARM-based chips from such companies as Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and the startup Calxeda. Today, ARM chips dominate the smartphone and tablet markets, but they’ve been considered too low-powered and flimsy for use in data centers. A number of chip makers are trying to change that by creating higher-end versions of ARM that still run at low power and cost less than Intel chips, while offering such features as error checking that customers expect to see with infrastructure equipment.
There’s lots of experimentation going on with these ARM-based systems, but HP now stands as the most vocal supporter of the technology among the top-tier server sellers.
Overall, HP wants to convey that it’s an innovator again. During the webcast celebrating the release of the Moonshot system, HP executives went to great lengths to talk about how daring and bold the company was. Along these lines, the new server seems to be a step in the right direction.