HP snubs ARM as it turns to Intel for low-power server

HP's new Gemini server marks a new phase in the company's low-power server push, with the unexpected use of Intel-based chips instead of the ARM-based ones it kicked off with
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

HP has introduced a low-power server with an Intel Centerton chip, in a switch in processor allegiance away from the ARM-based models previously used in its Project Moonshot push.

The Gemini microserver is designed to be processor-neutral, HP said at a launch event on Tuesday. It is a chassis built around processor cartridges that can slot in according to the needs of the application. Initially, these cartridges will use Intel's just-announced Atom-based Centerton chips, rather than the Calxeda-designed RISC architecture ARM processors that went into Gemini's predecessor, the Redstone Server Development platform.

"We designed a server and a server infrastructure that will be very, very relevant for many years. These server cartridges will allow us to modify and update and address different workloads in the same basic system," Paul Santeler, general manager of HP's Hyperscale Business Unit, said at the event.

Gemini is "fundamentally different" to anything HP has done before, he added.

With the announcement, the computing giant is putting more weight behind its Project Moonshot push into low-power servers. It hopes to make such servers more attractive to very large cloud providers that want to keep electricity costs down, as well as to very small companies reluctant to spend on expensive chips with more heft than their applications demand.

In April, Intel introduced its Centerton system-on-a-chip, which is expected to come out in the second half of 2012. The Centerton range has a thermal design power of 6W, far lower than Intel's mainstay Xeons, which run from 40W and up. This is marginally higher in terms of energy consumption than Calxeda's EnergyCore system-on-a-chip processors, which draw 5W (PDF) and were used in Redstone.

Other chipmakers

The move does not mean HP is cutting other chips out of the new server altogether. It said it has a "robust development roadmap of Gemini server cartridges incorporating processors from other vendors for use within the Gemini system".

Calxeda, whose chips might have been expected to appear in the second server out of Project Moonshot, shrugged off suggestions the switch shows a cooling in HP's enthusiasm for its processors. It expects to eventually see its chips in Gemini, according to Karl Freund, Calxeda's head of marketing.

"We've known about Gemini and intend to work closely with HP on Gemini," Freund told ZDNet UK. "They've always said that their intention is for it to be processor-agnostic... Our relationship is as solid as ever."

HP's server rival Dell sells ARM-based systems on the sly to select customers and has developed its own Copper server platform for the chip technology. Other competitors IBM and Oracle have not talked publicly about any work they may be doing with such chips. Fujitsu recently told ZDNet UK that while it does not have concrete plans for ARM-based servers, such systems are seen "as an option".

The Gemini announcement shows that Intel is hedging its bets in the server market, according to 451 Research analyst Andrew Donoghue. He noted that the chipmaker believes microservers could account for 10 percent of total server sales by 2015, while HP thinks the figure will be closer to 15 percent.

"Intel wants to defend its existing Xeon business but at the same time not miss out on an opportunity — or leave the door open for ARM (and its partners) to push into the datacentre in a big way," Donoghue told ZDNet UK in an email.

Editorial standards