At HP Discover this week Martin Fink showcased something pretty amazing: A ground-up redesign of the data center in a box called the HP Machine. HP isn't the first and won't be the last to do this. IBM redefined the data center, or maybe first really defined it with the mainframe, then Sun did this by driving client/server computing, Microsoft championed the data center in a container initiative and VCE most recently created V-Blocks. Each of these were massive changes to the way things were and often showcased equally massive improvements in terms of utility, cost and capability.
Well, HP is moving to do this again with a concept they are calling the HP Machine, basically the data center as an appliance.
Now this comes at an interesting time because pretty much everything we know about the data center is in flux at the moment and this may be the biggest bet any company has ever made.
Encompassing Change in Next Gen Data Center
Some of the huge changes that are currently maturing in the industry are appliance computing at scale, which Machine clearly anticipates; thin client computing, where HP is one of the dominant players; decision systems, which are being driven by IBM (Watson) and Google; robotics; security in depth, where HP is one of the largest players; and making IT more competitive with services like Amazon Web Services.
One of the interesting parts of the appliance computing at scale trend that few are watching is the integration of VoIP into the large-scale solution (VCE is leading). That will really be everything in a box.
A next-generation data center would have to take all of this into account including robotics because the robots will eventually connect back into the data center for maintenance, control and even decision support much like people do. This is a lot of change and it will require a level of computing power and capacity that we can only barely imagine now.
Inside The Machine
HP's Machine effort attempts to take the VCE V-Block one huge step further by redesigning the entire solution from the ground up from the component level using cutting-edge parts that HP is itself developing. This is truly a ground-up effort built on a deep set of new HP technologies.
Internal networking uses photonics for speed likely wrapped around a stealth effort to create a low-cost optical switch HP has been working on for some time. It has a unique processor that was specifically designed for flexible loading and has clusters of both specialized and general-purpose cores to handle a massive variety of concurrent loads, it has a brand new memory architecture based on its unique memresistor technology, which has the speed of RAM but the retention capability of flash (and even some processor functionality).
The end result is a highly tuned data center in a box that can handle a massive variety of loads, at blazing speeds, using far less power than existing hardware for similar loading. HP's estimates on energy alone suggest an 80 percent reduction while addressing 160 petabytes of data in 250 nanoseconds. This kind of capability is well beyond what systems in use today can provide. If HP can get it to market, there is virtually nothing that could touch it.
In Tech Timing Is Everything
However, this isn't something HP can launch this year and even the special memory isn't expected to be in shape to ship until 2015. With all new technology, it will take several years to work out the bugs and current estimates, which are likely aggressive, suggest it could have these in market in 2018 or four years from now. Four years is a long time in this market and everyone is chasing the performance rabbit.
HP Covering Its Technology Bets
The thing to think about is that many of the components for the HP Machine will come out earlier and enhance other products such as servers, storage, network switches and system-management software. And, when this system does ship, it may take a while for firms like VMware and Microsoft to get virtual machines that will work on it, but, thanks to virtual machines, the long wait for applications will likely be eliminated. So while we would typically be waiting a decade or more for maturity, with virtual machines HP could dramatically shorten that window.
[Related: HP Envisions the Holistic Data Center]
This is one of a number of big-bet projects HP is working on -- any one of which could change that firm's fortunes dramatically. You know, if you roll the dice often enough, eventually you get the number you want.
And HP is rolling the dice like crazy at the moment.
Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance and Security. Currently, Enderle writes on emerging technology, security and Linux for a variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.