Last Monday, HP announced the availability of their Moonshot System. In a nutshell, it’s about packing a very large number of sub-10 W compute or storage nodes into a fraction of the space of what’s been available until now in the enterprise server market. HP are currently delivering compute densities of 45 servers per 4.3U chassis, which means 450 servers per rack.  HP has further previewed future densities of up to 180 servers per chassis or 1800 servers per rack.  While each individual system may not be as powerful as a traditional x86 server,  you’re gaining a significant number of servers and consuming far less power.

Is Virtualization Dead?

On the face of it, HP’s Moonshot architecture lends itself to “physicalisation”, a term coined to describe the move in some industries to an architecture in which only few workloads – maybe one to four – are run on an individual host. In such a scenario, what role would virtualization have?

The answer is, of course, that there’s definitely a place for hypervisors, but it looks very different from how we use them today.

Virtualization & Manageability

HP Moonshot will lead to tens of thousands of servers in just a single row of a data centre. A user of that infrastructure won’t care which precise server they’re running on: they’ll just want their workload to keep running. Hence, administrators are going to move workloads around (e.g. to take machines in and out of maintenance). The easiest way to do that is using a virtualization platform.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily need all of the features of a traditional virtualisation product. Memory ballooning or page sharing, for example, isn’t that useful if you’re only running one two VMs. As we move into the future with Moonshot what you will need is a way to manage the complexity of the sheer number of machines. That’s where an orchestration layer is needed.

Your Very Own Cloud

As service providers and enterprises start deploying Moonshot systems, even a small deployment means a huge number of servers. Providing the ability to divide up that infrastructure between multiple tenants, having the system allocate servers to users on-demand (without someone needing to physically perform the allocation), and tracking/billing for usage becomes key. That’s why orchestration layers like Apache CloudStack (on which Citrix’s CloudPlatform is based) and OpenStack are really important as adoption for HP Moonshot grows.

Xen is ARMed

Today, HP Moonshot’s initial servers are based on Intel Atom.  Any x86 hypervisor should be compatible; however, HP quickly plans to introduce ARM-based servers into Moonshot. There’s currently a lot of interest surrounding the potential of ARM in servers, and  the Xen Project’s recent announcement that the Xen 4.3 hypervisor will support ARM architectures will help to enable and grow this ecosystem.

Citrix is a major contributor to the Xen Project and has recently announced that it will join the Linaro Enterprise Group (LEG). Meanwhile, Citrix has also been working with Calxeda to port CloudStack to managing bare-metal ARM-based servers.  We are excited about the opportunities this market holds, and you can expect to see more activity surrounding ARM server virtualization and orchestration from us in the future!

So What?

A lot of people are going to start investigating alternative processing architectures after HP’s Moonshot announcement, and there will be a significant need for both virtualization and cloud orchestration to help manage those deployments.  Citrix and HP are well-placed to jointly deliver solutions using XenServer, Apache CloudStack and OpenStack, and the Moonshot System.