Hewlett-Packard announced on Tuesday a new design for some of the world's largest computer centers and says it could reduce power consumption in some cases by 90 percent.
The design, called Project Moonshot, replaces the conventional microprocessors used in computer servers with the kind of chips used in cellphones and notebook computers. These mobile chips, which have usually run on small batteries, are designed as power misers, shutting down some inessential tasks and slowing others when placing calls or reaching the Web.
It is, for now, a specialty service for perhaps 50 of the world's largest online companies, said Paul Santeler, the manager of H.P.'s hyperscale business. "Believe me, they'll all be kicking the tires" on the new offering, he said. "For a Web architecture with tons and tons of users, where all the growth is, it makes a lot of sense." The world is adding 7,000 computer servers a day, he said, most of them for Web activities like social networking and watching video.
The new design will use chips made by Calxeda, an Austin, Tex., maker of low-power ARM chips for servers.
Over time, the computers may also be attractive to financial firms, scientific researchers and government security organizations, all of which have to plow through increasingly large amounts of data, looking for meaningful patterns, Mr. Santeler said. In a few more years, analysts say, they could also end up in mainstream corporate computing.
While a transition to these chips in servers has been predicted by makers of the mobile chips, H.P. is the first major computer company to offer a commercial product. In addition to incorporating the mobile chips, building the computers required innovations in software, data storage, and networking.
H.P. plans to start selling the Moonshot computer in mid-2012 and is still figuring out what to charge. The company says that in addition to saving power, the machines will save money on real estate and ancillary gear. H.P. says a load that normally requires a $3.3 million system of 400 servers, with 10 storage racks and 1,600 networking and power cables, and using 91 kilowatts of power, could be done in the new system for $1.2 million, using one-half a storage rack, 41 cables and 9.9 kilowatts. The mobile chips are smaller, so there would be 1,600 of them in such a system.
Mobile chips have another distinctive feature: Most are not made by Intel, the dominant supplier of traditional personal computers and servers. Intel, however, has a line of low-power chips, called Atom, and though these are not now used in Moonshot, H.P. went out of its way to say that Atom would be used in future versions.
Mr. Santeler dismissed the idea that Moonshot's mobile chips would be a threat to Intel, H.P.'s biggest supplier of microprocessors. Intel chips "have the preponderance of compiled code and real-life solutions" for established businesses, he said. "This is for a part of the market that buys in bulk, thousands of machines at a time."
Richard Fichera, an analyst with Forrester Research who has studied the new design, said about one-third of his business clients have expressed interest in such computers. In three to five years, he said, servers built on cellphone chips will be "fairly ubiquitous" in big companies.
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