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HP gives Intel Atom processors a leg up on ARM with Project Gemini

Data center managers interested in highly dense, low-power system configurations will have another option to choose from later this year, according to an announcement made today by HP and Intel.

HP’s Project Moonshot shifted focus from the Redstone Server Development Platform based on Calxeda’s ARM processors to a new generation of the Intel Atom System-on-a-Chip (SoC) platform dubbed Centerton.

“It’s the best Atom infrastructure so far, but more significant is the server architecture, with an internal fabric for management of server nodes,” said Forrester Research analyst Richard Fichera. “These very dense x86-based servers put pressure on proposed ARM designs.”

HP emphasized that the new product, called Project Gemini, is not intended to replace any other product in its line. Where RedStone hardware was based on HP’s ProLiant Scalable System SL chassis, Project Gemini introduces a new chassis that connects individual server cartridges to an internal fabric, and those cartridges are to be “processor-neutral,” according to HP.

But in its first iteration, Gemini’s Atom-based processor cartridges will boast several features which appeal to enterprise data centers that its RedStone ARM counterpart doesn’t have, including 64-bit support, error correction code (ECC), enterprise software compatibility, and Intel’s Virtualization Technology (VT) – all in a six-watt power envelope.

Redstone was also referred to by HP in a press conference announcing Gemini on Tuesday as a “market development vehicle,” where Gemini is projected to be a generally available product later this year.

The confluence and competition between ARM and Atom is also being explored by HP rival Dell, which recently floated an ARM-based trial balloon with its Copperhead servers, available only to a select audience.

Meanwhile, microservers, the general category to which all of these products belong, remain suited to a niche market. Microservers pack large numbers of low-power chips into dense chassis and are suited to highly parallelized but lightweight workloads like Hadoop, Web hosting, content delivery, or distributed memory cacheing.

Intel estimates microservers could capture 10% of the overall server market by 2015 and estimates their current penetration at 1-2%. HP predicts 10 to 15% market share for the extreme low-energy servers by 2015.

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