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Monday, April 8, 2013

H.P. Shakes Up the Server

Hewlett-Packard is planning to commercially release a new kind of server. With the server, it is angling for an entirely new look at how this multibillion-dollar business runs, by creating products more rapidly  and having more semiconductor companies provide chips.

Plans for the server were announced 16 months ago as Project Moonshot. H.P.’s chief executive, Meg Whitman, has talked about it as a major source of new growth many times since then. Until now, however, the scope of H.P.’s ambition has not been clear.

The server uses low-power Intel chips. H.P. says it uses 89 percent less energy and is 80 percent smaller than today’s typical server. It is also said to cost 23 percent as much overall.

But this is not the only reason it is noteworthy. Instead of using chips from only Intel or one other supplier, as it has in the past,  H.P. is partnering with many chip suppliers. Besides Intel, representatives of Advanced Micro Devices, Applied Materials, Texas Instruments and Calxeda, which makes low-power chips normally used in mobile phones, were at an event in New York where H.P. showed off the machine.

And instead of coming up with a new version of the server every couple of years, H.P. envisions making new versions of this one every three to six months.

The servers are shaped like cartridges that snap into an enclosure. Each kind of server will have different performance characteristics, and customers â€" mostly companies with very large data centers â€" will be able to mix and match servers to suit their needs.

Forty-five of the cartridges fit into an enclosure, and anywhere from 10 to 40 enclosures can be fit into a standard server rack.

“It’s a software-defined server, with the software you’re running determining your configuration,” said David Donatelli, the general manager of H.P.’s server, storage and networking business. “The ability to have multiple chips means that innovations will happen faster.”

H.P. is addressing a growing market as more computing takes place online, either through cloud computing, watching videos on phones or making and sending documents. This market has already eaten away at H.P.’s margin in servers by offering alternatives. Facebook, among others, has been pressing H.P. to come up with designs that reflect changing realities.

Savvis, a big corporate cloud computing company owned by Century Link, is one of the first customers, along with several educational institutions. H.P. is also running many of its own Web sites on the servers.

“This is built to a new world,” Mr. Donatelli said, adding that he expected to see other manufacturers enter the market with variations on the theme of lower power machines that are configurable to many sorts of chips. The company would maintain its edge, he said, through innovations in things like networking, control software and configuration inside the enclosures.

Mr. Donatelli, who sold more than $12 billion of older servers in 2012, said he did not think the old models would go away soon. Sales in volume of the new versions may not even occur until 2014, he said. But he was clear that a change was under way.

“It’s the Web changing the way things get done,” he said.