HP Project Moonshot

HP gave the long awaited official launch for its Project Moonshot hyperscale system this week, as one of the customer trial participants highlighted the opportunities the high density servers can bring to cloud service providers.

Moonshot is aimed at use in dedicated hosting and large data centres running less compute intensive applications at massive scale on ARM or low-powered x86 processors, with the first Moonshot 1500 enclosures shipping with Intel Atom S1200 chips. Each 4.3u unit has 45 Proliant server cartridges, which HP says uses 89% less energy and 80% less space than traditional servers.

The Moonshot systems have been in a beta trial ahead of the official launch, with around 50 HP customers in the UK taking part in testing. According to HP, between five and 10 of those using beta versions of Moonshot ran the systems in production prior to becoming available in Europe next month.

One of the customers to get their hands on the Moonshot was IaaS service provider Carrenza, which has customers including RBS, Cineworld and Comic Relief.

The cloud provider typically operates with roughly 12,000 CPUs available across the three data centres it uses in the UK and Holland, with approximately 95% of its HP c-Class blades virtualised using VMware hypervisors.

Carrenza CEO Dan Sutherland has been testing the beta system since December, claiming to have overcome initial scepticism towards the benefits of implementing Moonshot over its existing infrastructure.

"As a type of server it doesn't really exist at the moment, you can't go out and get something else to compare, so it was about finding out what this was capable of doing," said Sutherland. "We have a chassis with 45 servers in it, which is one unit. For testing purposes that is as much as we need, as you just rack and stack after that."

For Carrenza the Moonshot trial involved a limited live trial supporting transactions during this year's Comic Relief event, Red Nose Day.

The cloud service provider has been involved in the delivery of systems for Comic Relief and Sports Relief for five years, and has provided IaaS for the Plus software system, which is used to speed up donation transactions made to the charity.

"Plus is essentially an application with a database on the back end, and you query the data base to bring back results," Sutherland said. "What we did was run 15 instances of Plus on 15 of these servers running SSD. We ran the system in mixed mode, so we had our traditional virtualised servers in case anything went wrong."

Sutherland said that although the trial was limited, it showed that HP's benchmark claims were achievable in practice.

"This was a beta unit and we were able to run on it, and run on it alone for the night and two weeks either side," he said, adding that the system handled a peak of about sixty transactions a second with "no noticeable issues".

However, one of the main business uses Sutherland sees for implementing Moonshot in its business in future is around caching for websites. HP itself has been using Moonshot for its own hp.com site, and the caching of static web pages is one of the areas in which the low end servers can provide benefits.

One of the advantages of using physical servers is the ability to get rid of the virtualisation layer when performing low compute intensity applications, Sutherland explained.

"Most of our customers that are doing something web-focused are running memcached instances. At the moment we typically run those as virtual tin, but if we could run those as much more performant physical devices we can do it more efficiently than we are at the moment."

"So a Moonshot enclosure full of blades optimised to support an active LAMP stack is going to give us a lot more performance from a customer perspective than how we do it today."

Sutherland also sees potential for the delivery of virtual desktop infrastructure to its mid market customers, with desktop virtualisation on a large scale failing to make a significant impact so far.

"The challenge with VDI has been that when you boot all those servers at the same time, you need massive amounts of IOPS while those devices all boot. So if everyone comes in and logs in at the same time you have got a challenge.

"A chassis full of Moonshot servers with SSD in them, you have got maybe four or five desktops per server but vast quantities of IOPS, so you can boot all of these things really easily," he explained.

"The underlying systems are all sitting in the SAN and you use FCoE or something in order to communicate with them, and you have a really interesting way of delivering VDI, and doing it very cost effectively. That is very much a new area for us, and something that we can see as being very interesting."

There are clear limitations to the practical use of the Moonshot systems, which are targeted at performing one application function at a very large scale, and the servers are not intended to provide the flexibility of power of more traditional blade systems.

"It is tactical, it doesn't work for every kind of workload and we wouldn't expect it to. But it delivers enough value to mean that it is worth us integrating that type of server infrastructure as well as blade systems."

Sutherland said that he expects to introduce a proportion of Moonshot systems to his permanent hardware setup as HP develops more application specific server units. Following the release of Moonshot 1500, HP intends to release subsequent versions of Moonshot aimed at big data and high performance computing, among other applications.

"In the next year we might see somewhere between 5% and 10% going on to that kind of infrastructure," he said. "As existing systems start to get refreshed we are likely to take some of the components of existing systems and move them across, moving from existing virtual systems and on to Moonshot where that is appropriate for the workload, and also moving some legacy physical systems across to Moonshot devices where that makes the most sense."

He added: "Would we use elements of Moonshot for Sport Relief next year? Absolutely, if it is the right tool for the job. There is a very large caching infrastructure that supports Red Nose Day or Sports Relief - if we have decided we are going to do a Moonshot based cache product we would absolutely use that."