HP Brings Automation to Refreshed Line of ProLiant Servers

Hewlett-Packard is hoping to put its stamp on the industry-standard server market by refreshing its entire flagship ProLiant line of systems with new levels of automation.

The company officially launched its Generation 8 (Gen8) ProLiant servers at its HP Global Partners Conference (GPC) 2012 this week in Las Vegas.

The new systems are the result of a two-year, $300 million investment code-named Project Voyager and were designed to add more automation, intelligence and consideration for optimizing power utilization, system configuration and management, and providing more efficient performance.

"We want to create the world's first self-sufficient servers," said John Gromala, HP's director of marketing for industry-standard servers and software. "We've embedded automation inside the systems and have intelligent links between the workloads and software that are operating and the hardware itself to cut the lifecycle operation tasks, get rid of those time-consuming tasks people are dealing with, and have lower facilities costs to cut the overall cost of those systems in half."

The release of the ProLiant Gen8 servers represents the third and final segment of transition of HP's server platforms that began last November with Project Moonshot, which comprised systems built for low-energy computing. That was followed by Project Odyssey, which addressed mission-critical computing environments, and now the Voyager Gen8 systems, aimed at automating the administration of the infrastructure.

Analysts said HP's timing for launching its new servers was strategic. Besides the fact the launch was tied to its partner conference, HP got a jumpstart on announcing what its servers based on Intel's Sandy Bridge server architecture will look like. Intel is expected to launch the new Xeon-based Sandy Bridge server processors next month.

"HP is getting out ahead of the crowd," said Jed Scaramella, research manager for enterprise servers at IDC. "They didn't officially tie it to the processor but it is expected it will use that processor. I think HP really has a good strategy to announce early to get ahead." For its part, HP would only say that the ProLiant Gen8 servers will be equipped with x86-based processors from AMD and Intel.

For HP, the stakes are high. It's not only the leading provider of x86 servers, according to IDC, but the industry-standard ProLiant platform now represents 85 percent of HP's server shipments, up from 65 percent three years ago. IBM, which is closing in on HP in the x86 market, has less riding on it, since a majority of Big Blue's server revenues come from its Power and System z (mainframe) line of systems.

At the heart of the systems, which HP will start shipping next month, is the company's ProActive Insight architecture, designed to give IT administrators constant updates on the server's health, power utilization and key diagnostics. HP claims these features make it possible to deploy these servers three times faster than earlier systems with up to 93 percent less downtime.

Gromala said the ProActive Insight architecture provides four key components:

  • Integrated Lifecycle Automation: By continuously monitoring the system, 69 percent of the routine tasks required for system updates can be eliminated, while allowing for the accelerated deployment of systems.

  • Dynamic Workload Acceleration: With the increased consumption of data, performance in processing these applications can increase by six times, the company claims, thanks to the system's new design that integrates converged server and storage. HP also boosted throughput with new data-mirroring techniques (via improved algorithms), Gromala said, providing more efficient performance from the storage system, which also provides improved uptime and setup.

  • Automated Energy Optimization: Information such as location, power utilization and thermal readings allow for improved aggregated usage of systems within the rack and datacenter, according to Gromala. By assimilating this information, it eliminates power configuration errors and the manual record-keeping that's required in the datacenter whenever a system gets deployed.

  • Proactive Service and Support: An online call-based IT management and personalized support portal called Insight Online is designed to substantially improve time to resolution by 40 percent. The company said this is achieved via an active link between the systems and HP to better deal with the service and support issues they've dealt with in the past.

"ProLiant Gen8 stands as the first full expression of the discrete system automation features driven by the company's Project Voyager effort and its ProActive Insight architecture," said Pund-IT analyst Charles King in a research note. "The fact is that system and data center efficiency (both critical points in operational expenditures -- OPEX -- and facilities management) have long been challenges in scale-out x86 server environments, significantly impacting IT budgets and related business initiatives. That's the main sales point of HP's Project Voyager, as well as its related Project Moonshot and Project Odyssey initiatives."

But he cautioned against assuming HP is the first to address these issues. IBM, he argues, kicked off its Autonomic Computing initiative back in 2001. "While HP's efforts are laudable and likely to be welcomed by company customers, they simply reflect broader, long term industry trends," King said.

While it's true these capabilities are not new, Scaramella said HP's Gen8 platform brings it to a more embedded level. "Some of this stuff has been around for a while but they've improved it a lot and they're just drawing a lot more attention to these tools and trying to make a more intelligent server where you're making a better user experience," Scaramella said.

Further, he added, it represents a shift in emphasis away from virtualization, through memory and I/O technologies, to systems that require less manual administration. The new Gen8 systems will roll out throughout the year on various tower, rack-mount, blade and Converged Infrastructure servers for cloud environments.

HP also indicated that its effort to deliver low-power servers via its alliance with Austin, Texas-based startup Calxeda, announced in November, is on track. Through an initiative known as Project Redstone Server Development Platform, HP signaled its intent to deliver the systems that will use as little as 3.8 watts of power on a quad-core system, compared with a Xeon-based configuration that would consume 34.9 watts.

The company will release to select customers pilot versions of servers equipped with the Calxeda ARM-based, EnergyCore server-on-chip low-power processor in the second or third quarter, Dave Donatelli, executive VP and GM for servers, storage and networking for HP's enterprise business, told reporters at GPC, a spokeswoman said. HP has not disclosed a final ship date.


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