I plan to delve into Hewlett-Packard's new ProLiant SL Extreme Scale-Out (ExSO) line more deeply in an Illuminata Insight over the coming weeks. But it's a significant announcement that highlights some important trends, so hitting some of the highlights of today's announcement is worthwhile.
To start off, it's a new ProLiant form factor that joins existing tower, rack, and blade lineups. Essentially, it represents a shift up to the next lot size of server purchases. In other words, tower servers came first and were often purchased one at a time. Rack servers a few at a time. Blade servers: a chassis worth, maybe 8 or 12 at a time. ProLiant SL is optimized around purchases of a rack at a time.
ProLiant SL also optimizes around the requirements of the sorts of customers who make purchases at this sort of scale. This means focusing on metrics such as performance per watt or dollar or square foot. It also means leaving out the things such customers don't care about. For example, large-scale Web and HPC sites tend to build and use their own management tools. They're looking to server vendors to mostly just provide low-level tooling for monitoring and updates.
For the ExSO debut, HP is introducing three servers that are physically a sort of horizontal blade server--though HP chose to describe them to me as "skinless servers." The servers go into a new 2U z6000 chassis that then goes into a standard rack. (Typically, five chassis at a time will go into a standard HP rack using a 10U bulk rail kit.)
- ProLiant SL160z G6 is optimized for large memory, such as applications that benefit from a large memory cache near the processing
- ProLiant 170z G6 is optimized for large storage, such as for Web search and database applications
- ProLiant SL2x170z is optimized for compute density, such as for many HPC and Web front-end applications
HP will argue that ProLiant is based on more standardized components, such as standard racks, and can more easily mix and match with third-party components. There is some truth in that assertion. However, from my perspective, what's most distinctive about this product announcement is not so much the particular hardware that HP is selling but rather its context.
Namely, this announcement extends from and builds on supply chains, channels, and the considerable success of ProLiant in the marketplace. What would be a mildly interesting server design from a smaller or less successful server vendor is very interesting coming from HP.