The Birth of Project Moonshot

Parthasarathy Ranganathan is a corporate fellow at Hewlett-Packard Labs, where he currently leads a research program on future data-centric data centers.

On April 8th, HP launched the second-generation HP Moonshot servers, introducing a revolutionary new server design and driving a new ecosystem in computing centered around the concept of the “software defined” server. HP Moonshot represents the best of HP, bringing together the forward-looking creativity of HP Labs, HP’s iconic research division, and the customer focus and long leadership record of HP’s Enterprise Group.  I am an HP Fellow at HP labs and have been privileged to work on the project from its birth.

The History

HP Labs was started by Bill and Dave and has a storied history. Notable contributions in its 45-year history include the pocket scientific calculator, thermal inkjet printing, RISC architecture, and recently, fundamental advances in nano-electronics and sustainable computing. Project Moonshot builds on this foundation. 

In early 2007, a few of us at HP Labs decided to build on our rich research in energy-efficient computing and start a new project on energy-efficient servers. We realized that we needed a fundamental rethinking of our traditional approach to optimizing server efficiencies. We also saw some big opportunities on the horizon: the emergence of the cloud, what is now called Big Data, and the mobile revolution. Our key insight was simple:  Cloud and big data workloads are highly energy- and cost-constrained, and can be very different from traditional enterprise workloads. Simpler mobile processors could be a better fit for these workloads.

We proposed a novel system solution based on this approach, and developed new technologies for system “disaggregation” and common infrastructure sharing. The results validated our thesis: our new design was dramatically more efficient than traditional approaches. In 2008, our research paper discussing these results was recognized as one of the International Symposium on Computer Architecture’s (ISCA) most significant research papers based on novelty and long-term impact. Encouraged, we continued enhancing our solution with subsequent optimizations for memory disaggregation, new system-on-chip designs, dematerialized system packaging, and custom acceleration for software-defined servers.

Concurrently, our work was selected for presentation at HP TechCon, a prestigious and competitive internal technology conference that features the very best of innovation within HP. Our presentation caught the attention of HP’s CTO of the Enterprise Group and several other business unit leaders.  HP is the worldwide leader in x86 servers for 67 consecutive quarters (and going strong). Given this long experience in innovation and customer expertise, our business unit colleagues were able to help commercialize our ideas.

HP unveiled the first-generation Moonshot technology in November 2011 as a proof of concept. Since then, more than 50 beta customers have been developing and testing their applications, with some amazing results.  Interestingly, every one of our paper’s predictions has since come to pass: Cloud, mobility, security, and Big Data are creating a New Style of IT, for which HP Moonshot is perfectly suited, accelerating innovation while delivering breakthrough efficiency and scale beyond today’s traditional server infrastructure.

Project Moonshot

The new Moonshot system introduced last week is engineered for web hosting, the cloud and any large-scale applications that can benefit from customized servers. Moonshot addresses the space, energy, cost, and complexity issues that make today’s computing platforms unsustainable. Compared to a traditional HP ProLiant server offering equal performance, HP Moonshot uses up to 89 percent less energy, needs 80 percent less space and reduces complexity by over 97 percent – all at 77 percent less cost*.  Moonshot Servers are the world’s first “software defined servers” – tailored and optimized for specific workloads. Whereas traditional servers are released on an 18-24 month cadence, new HP Moonshot technology can be released at a much faster pace. In addition, HP is stepping up to lead the ecosystem around this new kind of computing, including through The HP Pathfinder Innovation Ecosystem, HP Solution Builder, HP Discovery Labs, and HP Moonshot Concierge Support.    

Project Moonshot is an example of HP’s innovations that disrupt the market and can have a big impact on our customers. Last week’s announcement is only the start of a promising product roadmap for Moonshot. We have a strong innovation pipeline in HP Labs around software-defined servers. We are also looking ahead at the next wave of tectonic shifts in the industry, around non-volatile memory and photonics, and defining the new kind of computing that is required for this new world.  Innovation is alive and well at HP. Stay tuned for more!


* According to internal HP engineering that compares HP Moonshot servers with traditional x86 server technology.