HP offers counter approach to Facebook-driven green IT project

Project Moonshot aims to create an ecosystem and common architectural approach that will help reduce energy consumption, complexity of data center infrastructure.

I got the strangest sense of deja vu reading a press release today from Hewlett-Packard about its aspirations to help businesses reduce the energy consumption and costs of "hyperscale" computing environments.

It is because this same theme was the focus of last week's Open Compute Project summit, an open source hardware initiative that was chatted up big-time in New York last week by founding company Facebook. The group is seeking to create more standardization at the system level for data center server and hardware gear and sharing of best practices for how to minimize heat and energy consumption. Although I didn't explicitly mention it in my post over the weekend, it was not lost on me that HP and IBM weren't part of the festivities, although Dell and Intel got their names mentioned more than once in the brief two hours that I attended.

The new HP effort, Project Moonshoot, is billed as a program that offers a new server development platform, "customer discovery lab" and partner ecosystem brought together with the purpose of reducing the complexity and energy consumption of environments that have thousands of servers along with all the network, storage, power, cooling and management technologies needed to support them.

"Companies with hyperscale environments are facing a crisis in capacity that requires a fundamental change at the architectural level," said Paul Santeler, vice president and general manager of the Hyperscale Business Unit, which is part of the HP Industry Standard Servers and Software unit.

Of course, the answer to that problem, in HP's eyes, is an infrastructure based on the technology platforms built in its Converged Infrastructure division, combined with what the company bills as 10 years of "low-energy computing infrastructure research" from HP Labs.

Here are the three elements central to the Project Moonshoot effort:

  • The Redstone Server Development Platform, billed as the first in a line of HP server development platforms that use the "extreme" low-energy processors. Initially, the brains of the server will be the Calxeda EnergyCore ARM Cortex processor series. HP Redstone can pack up to 2,800 servers in a single rack. It is supposed to ship to a limited group of customers during the first half of 2012.
  • HP Discovery Lab, which lets businesses test and benchmark applications running on the Redstone server platform. The first one will open in January 2012 in Houston.
  • HP Pathfinder, a program designed to create open standards and third-party technology support around the Project Moonshot effort. The initial partners include AMD, ARM Holdings, Calxeda, Canonical and Red Hat.

I would be willing to bet that the timing of this particular program is not coincidentally. For me, it points to the desperate need for some serious innovation within the world of hardware infrastructure and the need for some of the most influential vendors in this space to take more of an "open source" approach to hardware design.

What is largely wrong with the world of hardware today is "gratuitous differentiation," to steal the phrase used last week during the Open Compute Summit by Sun Microsystems co-founder Andy  Bechtolsheim, now the chief development officer for Arista Networks and one of the Open Compute Project’s board members.

I'm not exactly sure that HP is a fan of the sort of systems-level standards -- starting with rack design, power supplies and power distribution -- that is advocated by the Open Compute Project. But this new Project Moonshot initiative definitely is seeking to steal some mindshare for HP around the need for platform-level approaches to "scale" computing as businesses increasingly explore the world of cloud computing.

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