Overview – Moonshot Takes Off

HP today announced the Moonshot 1500 server, their first official volume product in the Project Moonshot server product family (the initial Redstone, a Calxeda ARM-based server, was only available in limited quantities as a development system), and it represents both a significant product today and a major stake in the ground for future products, both from HP and eventually from competitors. It’s initial attractions – an extreme density low power x86 server platform for a variety of low-to-midrange CPU workloads – hides the fact that it is probably a blueprint for both a family of future products from HP as well as similar products from other vendors.

Geek Stuff – What was Announced

The Moonshot 1500 is a 4.3U enclosure that can contain up to 45 plug-in server cartridges, each one a complete server node with a dual-core Intel Atom 1200 CPU, up to 8 GB of memory and a single disk or SSD device, up to 1 TB, and the servers share common power supplies and cooling. But beyond the density, the real attraction of the MS1500 is its scalable fabric and CPU-agnostic architecture. Embedded in the chassis are multiple fabrics for storage, management and network giving the MS1500 (my acronym, not an official HP label) some of the advantages of a blade server without the advanced management capabilities. At initial shipment, only the network and management fabric will be enabled by the system firmware, with each chassis having up two Gb Ethernet switches (technically they can be configured with one, but nobody will do so), allowing the 45 servers to share uplinks to the enterprise network.

HP’s initial announcement is deceiving in its simplicity, only offering an initial choice of Intel Atom CPUs, a limited portfolio of storage options, and a single switch option. The power of this announcement lies in what it portends for the future, as HP has laid out a strong roadmap for the year, including ARM-based as well as other x86 cartridges, higher-speed network switches and more storage options. More importantly, when looked at in the context of the changes happening in the larger IT world, the announcement takes on additional significance.

Why is this Important?

In case you haven’t been reading Forrester’s research (or just about anything, really), the Internet of Things, the Galactic Internet and Google and Facebook are driving data transfer, storage and processing requirements through the roof. This escalating global workload, when combined with continual pressures on efficiency and energy consumption, is driving demands for alternative compute platforms, particularly dense, low-power servers for large web workloads.

To date, the major systems vendors have been only marginally effective in addressing this workload segment, with what we can call 1st generation Atom products based on the original Intel Microserver concept, which we were never fond of, achieving densities of approximately 4 server nodes per rack unit, but with little additional integration value to offer.  Startups such as SeaMicro (funded by Intel and acquired by AMD) offered innovative options, but with non-mainstream architectures and little in the way of ecosystems. HP’s MS1500 is the first product from a major vendor to offer major jumps in density (by a factor of ~2.5x other mainstream products), an architecture which has obvious implications for future scalability and adaptation, and an active ecosystem that includes competing architectural offerings.

Who Should Look at The MS1500?

At the initial announcement, HP is emphasizing web front-ends and dedicated hosting environments, but has clearly spelled out a roadmap that expands the targets to include big data and analytics, gaming and virtualized hosting environments.

The MS1500 architecture is flexible enough that I expect that it will become the basis of an extended family of systems products which will be capable of addressing a wide range of workloads. I think that HP will not have any problem with overall market acceptance of these products in their target markets, and I fully expect that this concept will attract a host of competing products, including those based on some of the recent Open Compute Project designs and derivatives.

Future Analysis

I will be writing a more detailed analysis of the Moonshot project and products in an upcoming Forrester Product Spotlight report this quarter, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, comments are welcome – does the new Moonshot 1500 interest you, and why or why not?