While NASA won’t be launching any more rockets for a while, HP seems to be stepping in and just announced Project Moonshot. In a nod to the history of NASA’s original space race to the moon, they have even named the first “launch” platform “Redstone”, like the original rocket that Amareica’s first astronaut, Alan Shepard rode into space. Moreover, the future road map which projects out to 2015, and perhaps beyond, is even named Pathfinder, the probe that went to Mars.

In the race for data center “space”, mindshare and future computing architecture, HP seems to be trying to take “One small step for micropower computing, one giant step for hyperscale computing”(with my apologies to Neil Armstrong).

While the X86 architecture and platform is not dead, HP is focusing on other processors, such as ARM and Atom. They provide a significant amount of processing capabilities while using very little power, and are already used in many smartphones, tablets and netbooks. For the Redstone project, Calxeda EnergyCore™ ARM® Cortex™ processors will be originally used, with Intel Atom processors to be offered in later releases. Ultimately they may prove to be the preferred low energy CPUs for certain types of hyperscale computing loads, i.e. cloud, web search and for some massive social media applications.

Photo of 4U Redstone Chassis with 4 sub-modules with 72 processors in each sub-module

In a telephone interview with Glenn Keels, director of marketing, Hyperscale Business, Industry Standard Servers and Software at HP,he stated thatinitially the Redstone Server Development Platform will be packaged in a very dense 4U form factor chassis which can be packed with up 288 processors on “micro-blades” and also has sixteen 10Gig Ethernet interfaces per chassis, thus allowing up to 2,880 processors per rack..  With an average power of 5-6 watts per CPU while computing, and a significantly lower power draw while idle, HP projects up to a 89% lower energy consumption (compared to X86 based systems), for certain types of computing tasks (again think web, cloud and social media).

Fittingly, HP has even picked Houston, for their first Moonshot lab, which is scheduled to open in January, for selected high level customers to experiment with this new platform. I spoke with Partha Ranganathan, Fellow, HP Labs,  he stated thatkey potential customers can experiment (like NASA’s SkyLab) and run their applications on the Redstone technology platform, either in person (no space suit required), or even remotely (saving travel and travel related energy).  

Link to video of HP Labs with Redstone Chassis



The Bottom Line

So while the space race is stalled by current global economic conditions, the race to get to the next generation of energy efficient computing is being driven by the needs of the ever expanding universe of cloud computing and social media. Who knows, perhaps Hyperscale - Microscale computing may also change the general meaning of the term CPU to “Cheaper Processing Unit”

Note to HP; consider letting the Open Compute Project know about this.