HP unveils answer to IBM's Watson

Supercomputing cloud platform underscores Hewlett-Packard's new services vision

Hewlett-Packard followed up CEO Leo Apotheker's bold decision to remake the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company into a platform-as-a-service provider by announcing a data analystics supercomputer similar to IBM's Watson, the DeepQA machine that recently bested the two greatest human champions ever on "Jeopardy."

But whereas IBM's Watson takes the single-machine approach, packing 2,880 IBM Power750 cores and 15TB of memory into one box, the HP supercomputing platform leverages the cloud's vast scaling potential, as well as the full array of technologies HP has rolled out in recent years.

"It's the first time HP is trying to put all of the elements of what it's doing together," cloud analyst Jim Gibbons said of the project, echoing Apotheker's recent proclamation regarding HP's PaaS path for the years ahead. "Consider it a watershed moment for HP and for cloud enthusiasts everywhere."

The platform, known as Project Urkel, is slated for prime-time unveiling in an upcoming episode of "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" where it will be tested on its knowledge of subjects such as social studies and long division. Integral to HP's "I'm wearing you down, baby. I'm wearing you down" campaign to win enterprises over to its cloud services vision, Urkel will be competing for a chance to win up to $1 million to help cover the remaining severance pay for the 9,000 enterprises services employees HP laid off last year as part of its PaaS makeover.

Urkel's "Boss Sauce"  is a grid-based, column-oriented database not unlike those popularized by social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Digg. Pooling fifth-graders' tweets, Facebook updates, and LiveJournal entries into a multinode distributed database system, Project Urkel performs quorum-based voting on queries conducted in a WebOS-based HP printer cloud. Best answers to potential questions such as "What is the capital of Hungary?" are then printed and collated for caching in printer trays. In the event that a tray's cached answer requires retrieving, it is scanned and uploaded to Project Urkel's ePrintCenter account for display on a dedicated HP Slate 500 tablet, onto which the answer is, as "Fifth Grader" host Jeff Foxworthy says, "locked in."

"This is the next level of the next level of the cloud," said Bill Turgid, principal cloud evangelist at Vapor Hut. "And if it elevates cloud mind share among the lucrative tween set, rest assured, this cloud thing will blow up," all but ensuring a future that could see Project Urkel quipping, "Did I do that?"