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9Dec/13Off

HP Moonshot: VDI Edition

TechOps Guy: Nate

To-date I have not been too excited about HP's Moonshot system, I've been far more interested in AMD's Seamicro. However HP has now launched a Moonshot based solution that does look very innovative and interesting.

HP Moonshot: VDI Edition (otherwise known as HP ConvergedSystem 100 for hosted desktops) takes advantage of (semi ironically enough) AMD APUs which combine CPU+GPU in a single chip and allows you to host up to 180 users in a 4.3U system each with their own dedicated CPU and GPU! The GPU being the key thing here, that is an area where most VDI has fallen far short.

Everything as you might imagine is self contained within the Moonshot chassis, there is no external storage.

EACH USER gets:

  • Quad core 1.5Ghz CPU
  • 128 GPU Cores (Radeon of course)
  • 8GB RAM (shared with GPU)
  • 32GB SSD
  • Windows 7 OS

That sounds luxurious! I'd be really interested to see how this solution stacks up against competing VDI solutions.

AMD X2150 APU: The brains of the HP Moonshot VDI experience

AMD X2150 APU: The brains of the HP Moonshot VDI experience

They claim you can be up and going in as little as two hours -- with no hypervisor. This is bare metal.

You probably get superior availability as well given there are 45 different cartridges in the chassis, if one fails you lose only four desktops. The operational advantages(on paper at least) for something like this seem quite compelling.

I swear it seems a day doesn't go by when a SSD storage vendor touts their VDI cost savings etc (and they never seem to mention things like, you know servers, LICENSING,  GPUs, etc etc - really annoys me).

VDI is not an area I have expertise in but I found this solution very interesting, and it seems like it is VERY dense at the same time.

HP Moonshot M700 cartridge

HP Moonshot M700 cartridge with four servers on it (45 of these in a chassis)

HP doesn't seem to get specific on power usage other than you save a lot vs desktop systems. The APUs themselves seem to be rated at 15W/ea on the specs, which implies a minimum power usage of 2,700W. Though it seems each power supply in the Moonshot has a rated steady-rate power output of 653W, with four of those that is 2,600W for the whole chassis, though HP says the Moonshot supports only 1200W PSUs, so it's sort of confusing. The HP Power Advisor has no data for this module.

It wouldn't surprise me if the power usage was higher than a typical VDI system, but given the target workload(and the capabilities offered) it still sounds like a very compelling solution.

Obviously the question is might AMD one-up HP at their own game given that AMD owns both these APUs and SeaMico, and if so might that upset HP?

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7Aug/13Off

Nth Symposium 2013: HP Moonshot

TechOps Guy: Nate

Travel to HP Storage Tech Day/Nth Generation Symposium was paid for by HP; however, no monetary compensation is expected nor received for the content that is written in this blog.

HP launched Moonshot a few months ago, I wrote at the time I wasn't overly impressed. At the Nth Symposium there were several different HP speakers that touched on Moonshot.

HP has been blasting the TV airwaves with Moonshot ads - something that I think is a waste of money - just as much as it would be if HP were blasting the TV with 3PAR ads. Moonshot obviously is a special type of system- and those in that target market will obviously (to me anyway) know about it. Perhaps it's more of an ad to show HP is innovating still, in which case it's pretty decent (not as good as the IBM Linux commercials from years back though!).

Initial node for HP Moonshot

Initial node for HP Moonshot for Intel Atom processors

Sure it is cute, the form factor certainly grabs your eye. Micro servers are nothing new though, HP is just the latest entrant into the market. I immediately got into tech mode and wanted to know how it measured up to AMD's Seamicro platform. In my original post I detail several places where I feel Moonshot falls short of Seamicro which has been out for years.

Seamicro Node for Intel Atom processors

Seamicro Node for Intel Atom processors - Note no storage! All of that is centralized in the chassis, virtualized so that it is very flexible.

HP touts this as a shift in the way of thinking - going from building apps around the servers to building servers around the apps (while they sort of forgot to mention we've been building servers around the apps in the form of VMs for many years now). I had not heard of the approach described like that until last week, it is an interesting description.

HP was great in being honest about who should use this system - they gave a few different use cases, but they were pretty adamant that Moonshot is not going to take over the world, it's not going to invade every SMB and replace your x86 systems with ARM or whatever. It's a purpose built system for specific applications. There is only one Moonshot node today, in the future there will be others, each targeted at a specific application.

One of them will even have DSPs on it I believe, which is somewhat unique. HP calls Moonshot out as:

  • 77% less costly
  • 89% less energy
  • 80% less space
  • 97% less complex

Certainly very impressive numbers. If I had an application that was suitable for Moonshot then I'd certainly check it out.

One of the days that I was there I managed to get myself over to the HP Moonshot booth and ask the technical person there some questions. I don't know what his role was, but he certainly seemed well versed in the platform and qualified to answer my basic questions.

My questions were mainly around comparing Moonshot to Seamicro - specifically the storage virtualization layers and networking as well. His answers were about what I expected. They don't support that kind of thing, and there's no immediate plans to. Myself, I think the concept of being able to export read-only file system(s) from central SSD-storage to dozens to hundreds of nodes within the Seamicro platform a pretty cool idea. The storage virtualization sounds very flexible and optionally extends well beyond the Seamicro chassis up to ~1,400 drives.

Same for networking, Moonshot is pretty basic stuff. (At one point Seamicro advertised integrated load balancing but I don't see that now).  The HP person said Moonshot is aimed squarely at web applications, scale out etc.. Future modules may be aimed at memcache nodes, or other things.. There will also be a storage module as well(I forget specifics but it was nothing too exciting).

I believe the HP rep also mentioned how they were going to offer units with multiple servers on a single board (Seamicro has done this for a while as well).

Not to say Moonshot is a bad system, I'm sure HP will do pretty well with them, but I find it hard to get overly excited about it when Seamicro seems to be years ahead of Moonshot already. Apparently Moonshot was in HP Labs for a decade, and it wasn't until one of the recent CEOs(I think a couple of years ago) came around to HP Labs and said something like "What do you have that I can sell?" and the masterminds responded "We have Moonshot!", and it took them a bit of time to productize it.

(I have no personal experience with either platform nor have I communicated with anyone who has told me personal experience with either platform so I can only go by what I have read/been told of either system at this point)

10Apr/13Off

HP Project Moonshot micro servers

TechOps Guy: Nate

HP made a little bit of headlines recently when they officially unveiled their first set of ultra dense micro servers, under the product name Moonshot. Originally speculated as likely being an ARM-platform, it seems HP has surprised many in making this first round of products Intel Atom based.

Picture of HP Moonshot chassis with 45 servers

They are calling it the world's first software defined server. Ugh. I can't tell you how sick I feel whenever I hear the term software defined <insert anything here>.

In any case I think AMD might take issue with that, with their SeaMicro unit which they acquired a while back. I was talking with them as far back as 2009 I believe and they had their high density 10U virtualized Intel Atom-based platform(I have never used Seamicro though knew a couple folks that worked there). Complete with integrated switching, load balancing and virtualized storage(the latter two HP is lacking).

Unlike legacy servers, in which a disk is unalterably bound to a CPU, the SeaMicro storage architecture is far more flexible, allowing for much more efficient disk use. Any disk can mount any CPU; in fact, SeaMicro allows disks to be carved into slices called virtual disks. A virtual disk can be as large as a physical disk or it can be a slice of a physical disk. A single physical disk can be partitioned into multiple virtual disks, and each virtual disk can be allocated to a different CPU. Conversely, a single virtual disk can be shared across multiple CPUs in read-only mode, providing a large shared data cache. Sharing of a virtual disk enables users to store or update common data, such as operating systems, application software, and data cache, once for an entire system

Really the technology that SeaMicro has puts the Moonshot Atom systems to shame. SeaMicro has the advantage that this is their 2nd or 3rd (or perhaps more) generation product. Moonshot is on it's first gen.

Picture of Seamicro chassis with 256 servers

Moonshot provides 45 hot pluggable single socket dual core Atom processors, each with 8GB of memory and a single local disk in a 4.5U package.

SeaMicro provides up to 256 sockets of dual core Atom processors, each with 4GB of memory and virtualized storage. Or you can opt for up to 64 sockets of either quad core Intel Xeon or eight core AMD Opteron, with up to 64GB/system (32GB max for Xeon). All of this in a 10U package.

Let's expand a bit more - Moonshot can get 450 servers(900 cores) and 3.6TB of memory in a 47U rack. SeaMicro can get 1,024 servers (2,048 cores) and 4TB of memory in a 47U rack. If that is not enough memory you could switch to Xeon or Opteron with similar power profile, at the high end 2,048 Opteron(AMD uses a custom Opteron 4300 chip in the Seamicro system - a chip not available for any other purpose) cores with 16TB of memory.  Or maybe you mix/match .. There is also fewer systems to manage - HP having 10 systems, and Sea Micro having 4 per rack. I harped on HP's SL-series a while back for similar reasons.

Seamicro also has dedicated external storage which I believe extends upon the virtualization layer within the chassis but am not certain.

All in all it appears Seamicro has been years ahead of Moonshot before Moonshot ever hit the market. Maybe HP should of scrapped Moonshot and taken out Seamicro when they had the chance.

At the end of the day I don't see anything to get excited about with Moonshot - unless perhaps it's really cheap (relative to Seamicro anyway). The micro server concept is somewhat risky in my opinion. I mean if you really got your workload nailed down to something specific and you can fit it into one of these designs then great. Obviously the flexibility of such micro servers is very limited. Seamicro of course wins here too, given that an 8 core Opteron with 64GB of memory is quite flexible compared to the tiny Atom with tiny memory.

I have seen time and time again people get excited about this and say oh how they can get so many more servers per watt vs the higher end chips. Most of the time they forget to realize how few workloads are CPU bound, and simply slapping a hypervisor on top of a system with a boatload of memory can get you significantly more servers per watt than a micro server could hope to achieve. HOWEVER, if your workload can effectively exploit the micro servers, drive utilization up etc, then it can be a real good solution -- in my experience those sorts of workloads are the exception rather than the rule, I'll put it that way.

It seems that HP is still evaluating whether or not to deploy ARM processors in Moonshot - in the end I think they will - but won't have a lot of success - the market is too niche. You really have to go to fairly extreme lengths to have a true need for something specialized like ARM. The complexities in software compatibility are not trivial.

I think HP will not have an easy time competing in this space. The hyper scale folks like Rackspace, Facebook, Google, Microsoft etc all seem to be doing their own thing, and are unlikely to purchase much from HP. At the same time there of course is Seamicro, amongst other competitors (Dell DCS etc) who are making similar systems. I really don't see anything that makes Moonshot stand out, at least not at this point. Maybe I am missing something.