HP's new ARM servers: It's all about power

Yes, HP's decision to go with ARM for its new Redstone server 'platform' is a blow to Intel, but the real story is that AC power now costs more than hardware

Score one for HP: With its announcement today, the beleaguered company managed to stir up excitement over a new line of servers that doesn't even have a production date.

In fact, what HP announced was the "Redstone server development platform," which would use EnergyCore ARM Cortex chips from a Texas startup called Calxeda (ARM is an intellectual property company, not a chipmaker). Sounds like a big ouch for Intel. But read the fine print, and you'll notice that HP says that future Redstone versions will also incorporate Intel Atom chips.

The point is that CPU energy consumption characteristics trump the choice of chip in HP's new high-concept initiative, Project Moonshot, under which the Redstone project was launched. (In case you missed the reference, Redstone was the name of the first rocket under the Mercury space vehicle.) And the quickest way to get to the lowest possible server power consumption is to tap mobile CPU technology.

Moonshot is actually a pretty bold plan: Push the data center toward extreme low-power servers and "hyperscale" architecture (another way of referring to a large private cloud). As a proof of concept, you're supposed to be able to squeeze more than 2,800 Redstone servers in a single rack. According to HP Labs, this configuration yields 89 percent less energy, 94 percent less space, and an overall cost reduction of up to 63 percent compared to traditional server systems.

At this point there's little doubt the modern data center must head in Moonshot's direction -- and HP deserves kudos for bringing the vision to life right down to the chip level. It beats the heck out of former CEO Léo Apotheker's maddeningly vague statements six months ago about "HP heading to the cloud." But it should also be noted that HP archrival Dell has specialized in supplying public cloud environments with hardware and expertise for years -- and has been moving aggressively to net private cloud engagements.

So great vision, HP, but it's going to take a while to see how the execution pans out. The Redstone development platform -- not shipping product -- is "expected to be available in limited volumes to select customers in the first half of next year."  And according to an HP spokesperson, production rollout will be announced at a later date. Meanwhile, don't expect Dell, IBM, or Oracle/Sun to stand still.

This story, "HP's new ARM servers: It's all about power," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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