HP launches Project Moonshot, powered with Intel's Atom at first

HP's bet to be a server leader revolves around hyperscale servers, targeted workloads, power savings and better density. At stake is HP's reputation as an innovator.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Hewlett-Packard launched its Moonshot server line with an Intel-based Atom system available today and more chipsets planned in the future. The promise: HP will create Moonshot hyper scale software defined servers for custom workloads and an ecosystem.


The bet for HP is that it can launch new Moonshot systems at three times the product cycle of traditional servers. For HP, Moonshot represents the company's ability to innovate, remain a server leader and keep up with cloud customers, who are increasingly building their own gear.

HP CEO Meg Whitman started a Webcast by talking "brontobytes of information," argued that the Web on its current path isn't sustainable. "The data center space needed will be 200 football fields" to meet demand, power plants will have to be built, she said.

The case for Project Moonshot, a multi-year effort, is that these systems will cut space and power in the data center. "It's the foundation for the next 20 billion devices," said Whitman.

Overall, HP is pitching a "library" of Moonshot servers and an architecture that's designed for developments like the Internet of things and machine-to-machine applications. Initial reference customers include Savvis, a data center hosting and cloud company, and Purdue University. 

HP executives likened Moonshot systems to the move from Unix to x86 servers and the innovation created from the use of blade systems. 

Dave Donatelli, general manager of HP's enterprise group, said HP has had more than 50 beta customers for its first-generation Moonshot system. The second gen of Moonshot will be geared to creating a software defined server. Donatelli quipped that the industry will look back at the Moonshot launch 10 years from now and note the event as a marker where the server industry changed. 

Key points:

  • HP Moonshot servers can support 1,800 servers a rack.
  • Each chassis shares components for cooling, power supply and management software.
  • The Moonshot 1500 uses Intel's Atom S1200 processor.
  • HP is working on an ARM-based server in partnership with Calxeda, the partner for the first-gen Moonshot server. A Calxeda spokesperson said that there will be an ARM-based Moonshot on deck. The company said it can support HP's launch schedule to have Calxeda-based Moonshot servers later this year with up to 180 quad-core in the 4U Moonshot server chassis. 
  • Pricing starts at $61,875 for the enclosure, 45 HP ProLiant Moonshot servers and an integrated switch.
  • The first Moonshot system runs on Linux, but is compatible with Windows, VMware and traditional enterprise applications since it's x86 based via Atom. 
  • Power savings data is based on comparison to HP's dl300 servers. 


According to HP, the first Moonshot system is available today in the U.S. and focused on cloud workloads. The system is powered by Intel's Atom processor. More systems will have multiple partners and target verticals ranging from genomics to cloud to video to analytics, telecom and gaming. A global and channel rollout begins next month.

Here's a look at other chip partners for Moonshot. 





Donatelli also plugged an ecosystem of software developers who will optimize applications for Moonshot hyperscale servers. Donatelli argued that enterprises and cloud companies won't be able to simply add more servers over and over. Power and space will eventually run out.

The big question for HP is how long the Moonshot architecture will take to proliferate. Blade servers didn't take off immediately. Today, Moonshot is for large installations, but over time HP expects the architecture to broaden to other use cases at smaller companies. The reality is that few enterprises would qualify for a hyperscale server treatment. As HP rolls out systems for workloads such as analytics, genomics and financial services that equation will change. 

The nuts and bolts were explained by Patrick Moorhead, principal of Moor Insights & Strategy. Moorhead said in a white paper:

The HP Moonshot 1500 System chassis is similar to a blade chassis, but on steroids. It is a 4.3U (7.5 inches tall) chassis that hosts 45 independent hot-plug ProLiant Servers, all attached to multiple fabrics. Like a blade chassis, the HP Moonshot 1500 System chassis sports shared power, cooling, and management resources for those server

Unlike blade chassis, it does not have a single, fixed, and shared interconnect backplane. It contains three independent network fabrics – an Ethernet switch fabric, a storage fabric, and a cluster fabric. Each ProLiant Server has access to all three fabrics.

In the HP Moonshot 1500 System, network access for its server cartridges is implemented as two removable Ethernet switch modules that can be configured for redundancy or maximized bandwidth. The initial switch modules implement 1Gbps links, and each server cartridge may have up to four 1GbE links to each switch, for eight links total.

Moorhead noted that Moonshot's cluster fabric isn't in blades. Groups of server cartridges are connected via bandwidth lanes. Each cartridge has storage lanes. This separation of rack-level network traffic boost throughput.

The only planning wrinkle appears when customers mix and match server cartridges. HP doesn't have that capability yet, but will over time.

Moonshot's importance to HP

Aside from the obvious potential boost to HP's reputation as an innovator, Moonshot servers also have to pick up the slack for other businesses. According to Barclays analyst Ben Reitzes, Moonshot servers are needed to boost HP's server revenue, which will be more critical should PC sales drop off over time. The problem for HP is that cloud players are using Quanta and Wistron to make their own servers over branded systems. Reitzes noted:

Industry Standard servers represent 43% of total ESSN revenue, an area where HP remains the market share leader but has seen its share slip the last few quarters. We believe growth is being held back by share losses to “self-made” servers for the Cloud players and concerns around HP’s future. We are increasingly seeing Cloud players use ODM partners like Quanta and Wistron to make their own servers vs. using products from HP, IBM and Dell. Quanta’s servers are in competition with HP’s Gemini platform released last June. According to IDC, HP’s shipments last quarter were -6% y/y (vs industry growth of -4% y/y) and HP’s share was down to 32.0% from 32.6% last year. We believe HP must have a strong x86 server business to drive sales of storage and software. It may also be increasingly hard to sustain a leadership position in servers if HP loses ground in corporate PCs.

Reitzes last point is worth noting. HP needs servers to do well so it can sell more gear elsewhere.

HP is betting that Moonshot servers can represent 15 percent of the market by 2015. For now, Moonshot servers aren't being highlighted in HP's Austin data center, which is used to showcase the company's latest systems and software, but do run HP.com.

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