Analysis: Behind HP's Extreme Scale-Out Pitch

If there's some hyperbole in HP's ExSO pitch, there's some real substance, too -- it's all about mega-scale.

Last month, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) unveiled its new ProLiant SL6000 blades, a line-up of blade servers that it says are designed to scale deep and wide. HP has positioned the new ProLiant systems as the first deliverables in its Extreme Scale Out, or ExSO, portfolio.

If there's some hyperbole in HP's ExSO pitch, there's real substance, too. The salient point, says Gordon Haff, a principal IT advisor with consultancy Illuminata, is that ExSO targets any of three "mega-scale" scenarios: extremely intense enterprise computing efforts (e.g., deep analytics); extremely dense high-performance computing (HPC); and extremely ambitious data center operators --- i.e., mega-providers that (per HP's guidance) occupy 100,000 or more square feet and acquire hardware 1,000 or more nodes at a time.

There's a sense in which such extreme deployments should be well-trod ground for HP. After all, Haff notes, the firm is amply represented in the Supercomputing TOP500 list (where nearly half of current entries run on HP hardware). Moreover, HP maintains a Scalable Computing and Infrastructure organization that's supposed to address precisely these issues of scale.

Nevertheless, he suggests, the ExSO brand isn't just hyperbole; it reflects the unique -- and uniquely breathtaking -- requirements of mega-scale.

"ExSO hardware is better optimized for today's ultra-scale sites, and the program as a whole formalizes the associated operational support within HP," writes Haff in an Illuminata Insight publication.

In addition to three new ExSO-branded SL6000 systems (the ProLiant 160z G6, ProLiant SL170z G6, and ProLiant SL2x170z G6), HP touted several ExSO-oriented software and service offerings, starting with its Intelligent ExSO Center, which Haff describes as a "wrapper" for HP's larger data-center-oriented portfolio. HP also bundles its Data Center Environmental Edge service, which it says can improve data center efficiency (and ongoing management) by visually mapping a data center's environmental topology.

"ExSO is also paired with a variety of other specialized services, engagement models, and processes that collectively relate to the fact that these systems are focused on large-volume, often customized sales. This is reflected in the programs such as onsite parts depots, schedules maintenance, and a "concierge" engineer-to-engineer support program," he writes. "None of these approaches is strictly new, but HP is pairing them with ProLiant SL in a systematic and structured way that reflects the ways that the target for these systems is structurally different from enterprise datacenters. Lifecycle financial services also play a large role, including reuse, recycle, and disposal programs."

In the final analysis, Haff gives HP credit for innovating within an established context -- that of the (now-ubiquitous) server blade -- to address new and hitherto unimaginable issues of scale. It's in this respect that HP's approach with the ProLiant SL6000 -- like its strategy with Portable On Demand Storage, or PODS (where it delivered a not-quite-standard-sized take on the data center-in-a-standard-sized-shipping-container) -- differs from those of competitors such as IBM (which last year unveiled iDataPlex, its innovative and proprietary take on the next-gen blade) and Sun.

Like PODS, where HP packs standard form-factor hardware into an over-sized shipping container, ExSO innovates within a cost-effective context: in this case, by bundling (mostly) standard form-factor hardware and mature data center software or services to support mega-scale deployments. "[W]hat's most distinctive about this product announcement is perhaps not so much the particular hardware that HP is selling but its context," he concludes.

"[T]his announcement extends from, and builds on, the supply chains, channels, and considerable success of ProLiant in the marketplace. What would be an interesting server design from a smaller or less successful server vendor is very interesting coming from HP."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.