As demand increases for computers that can carry out hyperscale workloads — lightweight computing tasks carried out on a very large scale — server OEMs are having to broaden what they offer to avoid becoming irrelevant to an important part of their market.
Hyperscale workloads are commonplace at web giants such as Facebook and Google, which already source the majority of their servers and datacentre infrastructure themselves, Google behind closed doors and Facebook in collaboration with its Open Compute partners, rather than buying the stock server offerings from large manufacturers such as HP, Dell and IBM.
And as demand for scalable compute power suited to these type of tasks increases, driven in part by the fast-growing public cloud services industry, the big OEMs are offering new types of servers.
One new product line is HP's Moonshot server, small servers, sometimes known as microservers, that can be packed into dense clusters targeted at carrying out specific computing workloads.
Moonshot servers are tailored towards workloads that need to be carried out in parallel on a very large scale or hyperscale, such as serving content for widely-used web sites and apps. A key concern for hyperscale tasks, due to the massive scale at which these workloads are carried out, is minimising power consumption.
Power draw in Moonshot servers is kept down by using low-energy system on a chips (SoCs), such as the Intel Atom or ARM-based systems, by stripping circuitry from the main board that isn't needed for a specific computing workload and by sharing power, cooling and networking between servers.
Moonshot is designed to be a "low-powered server technology to provide scale-out architecture for these new types of applications and workloads that are coming to market, specifically in the hyperscale segment," said Paul Morgan, HP's hyperscale business manager for industry standard servers.
"We call them application-defined servers, as opposed to general-purpose servers. With Moonshot we take the application first, and then custom build the cartridge specifically for that application. In doing that we get the best price per performance per watt."
HP released its first Moonshot server in April this year, an Intel Atom Centerton S1200-based cartridge — HP's name for Moonshot server boards — which could be packed into 450 server cluster sitting in a single rack containing 10 4.3U Moonshot chassis.
Today HP has revealed three new boards — based on chip designs from AMD, ARM and Intel — and aimed at workloads beyond its first generation Moonshot server, which was designed to serve static elements on web pages.
The Intel and AMD cartridges are available to buy from today, while the ARM cartridge will be available in HP's Discovery Labs for customers to test and will ship to customers next year.
The three new cartridges are aimed at serving:
This Moonshot server cartridge, known as the HP ProLiant m700, is designed for serving hosted desktops to client PCs, and will support Windows 7 and Windows 8 at launch.
Each rack of these cartridges will support about 1,800 hosted desktop users, with each OS hosted on a separate server node. Each m700 cartridge has four nodes, each functioning as a separate server. Each Moonshot 4.3U chassis holds about 45 cartridges and 10 of these chassis fit in a rack.
"If you look at a per user perspective we're able to bring down the TCO significantly, just on the power savings alone, since these Moonshot servers run at a fraction of the power of traditional x86 servers," Morgan said.
Each node on the m700 board has an SoC based on the 64-bit AMD Opteron-X processor, a quad core chip with an integrated 128-core Radeon HD 8000 graphics processing unit. The AMD processor is the 11W-22W Opteron X2150, which runs at up to 1.9GHz and has 2MB of level-2 cache. Each of the four nodes on the board includes 8GB of DDR3 SO-DIMM ECC memory running at 1600MHz. The cartridge has up to 32GB of solid state storage per node, with HP planning to increase the storage in future versions of the board.
The board is the basis of the HP's ConvergedSystem 100 for Hosted Desktops, available worldwide from today starting at $137,999 for 180 users.
Dynamic web serving
This Intel Atom Avoton-based cartridge, known as the HP ProLiant m300, is designed to serve dynamic content in web sites and apps, such as Flash animations or interactive menus driven by Ajax.
The ability to serve dynamic content on websites comes from the "six to seven times" performance gain in this cartridge over the Intel Atom Centerton-based SoC Intel used for its first Moonshot server.
Each cartridge has a single server node powered by an Intel Avoton SoC with a 64-bit, eight-core processor running at up to 2.4GHz and up to 32GB of DRAM. The Avoton family's TDP, a measurement related to the maximum expected power consumption of the chip, ranges from 6W to 20W.
The new Intel cartridge includes a SAS or SATA small form factor ProLiant Generation 8 drive, available in sizes up to a 1TB hard drive or as a 200GB SSD.
HP will continue to offer the Centerton-based cartridge for serving static content over the web.
Digital signal processing
The third cartridge, the HP ProLiant m800, is aimed at telecoms providers, which make extensive use of digital signal processing (DSP) for audio processing and compression, and in data transmission.
This is the first Moonshot cartridge powered by an ARM-based SoC. At the heart of the SoC is a Texas Instruments 66AK2H chip based on a 32-bit Arm A15 core, with each core containing eight digital signal processors.
There are four SoCs on each cartridge, each functioning as a separate server node, and with with each node having up to 16GB of DRAM and up to 32GB of solid state storage.
A total of 45 cartridges can be placed in a 4.3U chassis to give a total of 180 cores and 1,440 digital signal processors.
"A 4.3U chassis is going to be the densest DSP solution in the market today," Morgan said, adding that it would replace legacy DSP systems that are typically "large, heavy and power hungry".
The shared network infrastructure in the Moonshot chassis is also upgraded from today. Connections between the chassis and the cartridges are increased from 45 to 180 1Gbps lines — in order to provide a 1Gbps connection for each of the 180 server nodes in chassis housing four-node server clusters. The chassis uplink module has also been upgraded from 6 x 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) to 4 x 40 GbE.
What's next for Moonshot?
HP plans to release Moonshot cartridges targeted at different applications on a regular basis and next year will bring out more cartridges built on ARM-based SoCs, including its first cartridge based on a 64-bit ARM chip and SoCs from Calxeda and Applied Micro.
"We're not going to stop here. You'll see a host of other flavours coming out for lots of different other use cases. It's going to broaden the workloads and applications we can drive and support," Morgan said.
HP is using feedback from customers to decide what computing workloads the next generation of Moonshot servers should focus on, and therefore what the designs of the cartridges should be, said Angela Cross, HP UK and Ireland country management for industry standard servers and software.
"We create the cartridge to suit the app, rather than try and make the application suit the server," she said.
"We've just turned on our head our usual development cycle and therefore can invite the customer in to ask 'What would you like?'."
Morgan said the proviso that cartridges will generally be targeted at the needs of a particular industry or very large organisation to ensure the cartridge is economically viable, but said HP will be able to release new Moonshot servers rapidly to capitalise on changing compute demands.
"There's a huge amount of flexibility that we can drive because we're not launching a whole physical new server, that core underlying infrastructure is already there for us, so to launch a new Moonshot server only takes three or four months," he said.
The market for microservers is predicted to grow to be a small but significant portion of the market, accounting for about one fifth of server sales by 2015/16.
HP expects Moonshot will add to, rather than cannibalise, its existing server sales.
"It's not a replacement for blades, this is for scale-out hyperscale-type architecture like a single application scaled across hundreds or thousands of nodes," Morgan said.
HP wouldn't reveal sales figures for its first generation Moonshot servers since the launched in April this year but said it has had 150 customers testing their workloads on and certifying Moonshot systems in its Discovery Labs.
And while Morgan won't name names he said customers operating at the scale of Facebook were showing interest in Moonshot servers.
"We have many of those large, what I call T1 hyperscale customers looking at Moonshot," he said.