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What happened to the HP machine?

Anyone remember the HP announcement about 'the machine'? Billy MacInnes does and he wonders just what has happened to the grand project

Were you there in June 2014? I was. I was one of those in the hall at HP Discover in Las Vegas when Meg Whitman, CEO of HP (as it was before the company split) announced “The Machine", “a revolutionary new compute architecture” and described it as “building a new way to compute from the ground up”.

She revealed that The Machine which “changes everything” would be available by the end of the decade. It was not a mainframe, server or laptop but “a continuum” or “all of those things”.

According to a report in Bloomberg at the time , HP said up to 75% of the resources of HP Labs was focused on the project. Martin Fink, CTO and director of HP Labs, stated the company would bring The Machine to market within a few years or fall on its face trying. “We think we have no choice,” he added.

The same report also quoted John Sontag, vice president of systems research at HP, stating that after hearing a pitch on The Machine from HP Labs, Whitman had told the company’s CFO Cathie Lesjak to “find them more money”. He added that “people in Labs see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.

 

At HP Discover, Fink outlined the key components of The Machine and explained how the architecture would work. It involved the creation of specialised processors connected to a large single pool of universal memory via very high speed low latency photonics using light rather than copper.

He claimed a Machine server would be able to address any one byte of data in a 160PBs rack in 250 nanoseconds, would be six times cheaper than existing servers and reduce power consumption by 80%.

At the time, I wrote in MicroScope that spending 75% of your investment in innovation on something that wasn’t currently available and wouldn’t be for some time to come (if it ever arrived), represented a big gamble for HP. “In any event, HP hasn't just doubled down with The Machine, it's pretty much bet the farm on it as they say in the US,” I wrote. “Even some of Las Vegas' most seasoned high rollers might have shied away from making that bet.”

Now, it appears that HP has come to the same conclusion. I say “appears” because while a number of publications carried stories of an event held in London where HP showed off a prototype of The Machine, their verdict on what this signified varied. I wasn’t at the event myself, so I’ve had to rely on reports. Several described it as “a giant step” or a “major milestone”. But a couple (including Ars Technica) reported that along with the prototype, HP had also shown a slide stating the project’s goal was now “to demonstrate progress, not develop products”. The slide added that HP Labs and business units would “collaborate to deliver differentiating Machine value into existing architectures as well as disruptive architectures”.

In other words, The Machine is no longer a product in its own right. Instead it will provide technologies that will be used in other HPE products going forward.

That’s a long way from the bold vision of Discover 2014 which suggests HP has realised that the bet was too big, that the supply of “more money” was not inexhaustible and that, contrary to what Fink told Bloomberg at the time, it did have a choice after all.

This was last published in November 2016

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