Friday, June 13, 2014

With 'The Machine,' HP May Have Invented a New Kind of Computer

If Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard are spinning in their graves, they may be due for a break. Their namesake company is cooking up some awfully ambitious industrial-strength computing technology that, if and when it’s released, could replace a data center’s worth of equipment with a single refrigerator-size machine.

HP CTO Martin Fink in the Photonics laboratory at HP LabsPhotograph by Richard Lewington/Hewlett-PackardHP CTO Martin Fink in the Photonics laboratory at HP LabsThat’s what they’re calling it at HP Labs: “the Machine.” It’s basically a brand-new type of computer architecture that HP’s engineers say will serve as a replacement for today’s designs, with a new operating system, a different type of memory, and superfast data transfer. The company says it will bring the Machine to market within the next few years or fall on its face trying. “We think we have no choice,” says Martin Fink, the chief technology officer and head of HP Labs, who is expected to unveil HP’s plans at a conference Wednesday. 

HP CTO Martin Fink in the Photonics laboratory at HP LabsA decade ago, it wouldn’t seem as outlandish as it now does for a company such as HP, IBM (IBM), or Sun Microsystems to build a new computer architecture from the ground up. The hardware powerhouses, known as systems companies, all made their own chips, networking technology, and custom OS. Then commodity components became more powerful, and better data center software began to make up for deficiencies in the cheaper hardware. Consumer Web companies such as Google, Amazon.com (AMZN), and Yahoo! (YHOO) advanced new data center designs that were quickly adopted by the mainstream, shrinking the market share of the systems companies.

HP Labs, the company’s R&D arm, was once revered throughout Silicon Valley as a steady source of new products that could open up new markets. It’s been far less inspiring in recent years, ginning up a mishmash of mobile software, printing services, and teleconferencing systems that haven’t made it to customers in a meaningful way. Amid budget cuts, a costly, complex new computer system would seem like a stretch.

For the rest of the story: With 'The Machine,' HP May Have Invented a New Kind of Computer

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