HP’s Machine to Revolutionise Computer Architecture

World changing disruptive technologies most often arrive with little, if no, public fanfare. The Wright brothers first flew the Kitty Hawk in a desolate location, the computer was born to wartime secrecy and Elon Musk’s Falcon launched from an isolated Pacific atoll. In contrast, the disruptive potential of HP Labs’ Machine was revealed with significantly more fanfare as expected of the Silicon Valley culture primed to identify such events. HP CTO Martin Fink’s introduction of The Machine at HP Discover 2014 is likely to be ascend to historical significance #in5years or less.  It promises to be one of the critical breakthroughs required to crunch through the immense amount of data that would be produced by an Internet of Things.

HP - The Machine Introduction - HP Discover 2014

With a simple concept – electrons for computation, photons for communication, and ions for storage – HP Labs’ biggest project is re-inventing the computing architecture model that has dominated the last 60 years. A large, talented team of disciplinary researchers are applying their skills in semiconductor physics, photonics, systems engineering and software architecture to bring The Machine to life. Key research areas are new memory, memristors, and silicon photonics. It’s basically a radically new computer architecture for data centres with a new operating system, different memory, and extremely fast data transfer.

The Machine photonics

The results HP Labs is aiming for are – a quantum leap in performance and efficiency, lowering of costs over the long term and improved security. In hard numbers, according to HP, a Machine server could address 160 petabytes of data in 250 nanoseconds, be about six times more powerful existing servers and consume 80 times less energy. This computer architecture also lends itself to radically new computing shapes as the contemporary physical limits applying to electron data transfer don’t apply.

HP’s Machine – electrons for computation, photons for communication, and ions for storage.

Among its research projects HP is continuing with a new form of memory known as memristor. If they can transition research into production of fast, cheap and persistent memory it will replace the conventional coupling of slow hard disk drives and fast memory. Silicon photonics transferring data inside a computer using light instead of electrons will provide near instant data transfer between memory and computing chips.  HP is working on a new operating system to handle this new architecture as current operating systems are built upon a paradigm of processors waiting for slow memory access.

HP predicts it will bring the Machine to market within the next few years. Bringing The Machine to production presents significant risks balanced by significant rewards. Factors that are encourage success are management funding and commitment and how HP appear to be applying what Elon Musk refers to “physics reasoning” to bring about a new computer architecture. Physics reasoning has been crucial to the success of Musk’s big-name ventures — namely SpaceX

HP needs a disruptive new technology like The Machine to sell hardware to the likes of Google and Facebook who install their own stripped down servers at minimised costs.


Have a look at our new video covering the latest on The Machine by HP.