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Sneak Peak: HP Labs technologies that will power a future of cloud and connectivity

Prith_Banerjee_HP.jpgIn March, in discussing HP’s vision and corporate strategy, HP CEO Léo Apotheker talked about how the convergence of cloud and connectivity is changing how technology and information are consumed across every aspect of our lives.  He described HP’s vision for creating seamless, secure, context-aware experiences – helping people naturally and securely move between the consumer world and the business world and back again.

Recently, Prith Banerjee, HP’s SVP of research and director of HP Labs, spoke with Arik Hesseldahl of All Things Digital about the research underway in HP Labs that will help drive this vision forward, including KVS (key-value stores) and the Cirious cloud software platform.

From the fundamental building blocks of future cloud systems to analytics to make sense of Big Data, they covered a lot of ground.  Here are a few notable excerpts. Check out the full story here.

  • On future services for health care, transportation and financial services: “We’re coming up with some very unique IP in these solution areas. And our delivery mechanism will be over the cloud.”
  • On Key Value Store technology, a building block for cloud storage:  “That’s a scalable, reliable, low-cost way of providing tremendous amounts of storage to our customers.”
  • On research in information analytics: “About 80 to 90 percent of [data] is going to be unstructured. The key is tying it together with the structured data and do really deep analytics on that.”
  • On bridging consumer and business worlds on one device: “The technology we’ve come up with is trusted virtualization. We provide a consumer view and an enterprise view. And these two worlds will not clash. We keep them completely secure, and running on the same device.”
Labels: HP labs

HP nanotechnology research looks to sustain HP server market leadership for the long run

(Update: read the 2/28/11 The New York Times story "Remapping Computer Circuitry to Avert Impending Bottlenecks" for more on this subject)


“What will future computer systems look like?” asks HP Labs distinguished technologist Parthasarathy Ranganathan in a cover story for Computer magazine, the flagship publication of the IEEE Computer Society.


In his article [PDF], Ranganathan suggests computer science is at what he calls an ‘inflection point,’ one that will provoke a radical rethink of traditional computer system design. 


This new generation of systems will likely be built around nanostores, argues Ranganathan.  Nanostores are non-volatile memory chips that also act as processors – and they promise to dramatically change the speed and volume at which computer systems can work. 


Colleagues of Ranganathan in HP’s Intelligent Infrastructure Lab  are already developing such memory chips, having in the last several years made significant advances in memristor-based technology.  Memristors, a circuit building block with origins dating to the 1970s, are resistors with memory and represent the fourth basic circuit element in electrical engineering.  Because they can both store information and act as processors, they have the potential to be the building blocks from which nanostores can be built.


It won’t be too long, HP researchers believe, before computer engineers like Ranganthan will be able to use such memristor-based nanostores in their new system designs.


A new direction for the server market

HP sees its memristor research as key to maintaining the company’s lead in the global server market, says Marc Hamilton, VP of high performance computing for HP’s Industry Standard Servers and Software group. 


While the company continued to dominate the competition in 2010 with an industry-leading 31.4% share of worldwide revenue (source: Gartner estimate), Hamilton believes that changes in customer demand will challenge even the most successful players in today’s market.


He notes, for example, that many organizations currently relying on x86 industry standard servers are starting to want ‘hyperscale’ or high performance computing (HPC) systems.  These are already being used to run cloud services, in large-scale online social, retail and financial operations and in systems attached to vast arrays of sensors distributed around the world.  


Those uses are only going to increase, believes Hamilton. “Consumer goods companies are now using the hyperscale computational fluid dynamics to design their packaging,” he explains.  “And you’re starting to see high performance computers move out of the research lab and into clinical use for genome sequencing.  In fact, almost every large company today is starting to use high performance computing technology.” 


But even newer GPGPU-based systems, like one HP built recently for Tokyo Tech, are constrained by the fundamentals of traditional computing architecture.  “If you just use a traditional programming model,” says Hamilton, “they put a tremendous burden on the network and storage interface. People are starting to look at latency-hiding algorithms just to use these systems effectively.”


From the ground up: memristors and rethinking the computer

Hamilton and HP colleagues like Ranganathan argue that, to compete in the coming age of exascale computing, technology companies need to reconsider the fundamental assumptions behind traditional computer architecture.  And they believe they’ve found the means to do that with the memristor.


HP Labs recently announced a plan to begin manufacturing memristor-based solid state memory chips, an innovation its researchers predict will then be followed by chips able to both store and do computations in one place.


Memristor Milestones

“The potential here is to transform computing through shifting the balance of compute, storage and networking,” Ranganathan explains.


When stacked together, memristors would, in effect, turn into nanostores that both hold information and do computation on that information.  They could also be packed together into ‘microblades.’


“Potentially,” says Ranganathan, “that could let you shrink a whole rack of storage onto a single blade. And then you could shrink a whole data center into a couple of racks of memristor-based nanostores.”


A familiar model – for once

There are plenty of thorny technical issues to be resolved before that can happen, of course.  A major question is how lightning-fast memory/processing units would work in a data network, a challenge that HP Labs research is already addressing.


Crucially, though, the fundamental concept of using nanostores and microblades is a familiar one, says ISS’s Hamilton.  “It’s similar to what’s being used in big web data centers already,” he explains.  “Only a system like Hadoop, which Google uses, is entirely software based.  This works in much the same way, only much faster.”


That’s unusual.  Typically, new compute models require people to think about software differently – and that slows the model’s adoption.  “The computer world has been struggling for the last five years to use the multi-core x86 processor,” notes Hamilton.  “Now they are adapting to the use of GPGPU technology.  But if you look at both the nanostore in a web environment and the microblade in a dataflow model – neither requires you to rearchitect how you have been doing things.  That provides for a very interesting capability to accelerate performance without causing massive change to the software.”


The generation after next

HP’s next-generation servers won’t feature memristors – which aren’t due to appear in the first flash-type memory chips for several years.


But memristor-enhanced servers are currently on the HP road map, says Hamilton.


“Right now we’re doing a lot of conceptual design and looking at how this all fits into our overall architecture,” he explains.  “And what we’re seeing is that this new generation of servers is going to enable us to massively extend our successful Converged Infrastructure strategy by enabling a new kind of holistic control of storage, compute and networking.”

HP Lab-in-Box: delivering IT-enabled education to rural India

Education in India faces enormous challenges.  Of the nation’s 200 million children aged between 6 and 14, for example, nearly two-thirds will fail to reach eighth grade.


Part of the problem lies in access to schools. Only 53% of Indian homes are close to a primary school of any kind – a reality that has India’s national government calling for more creative, sustainable and inclusive models of education.


In response to that call, HP India has created a prototype “Lab-in-Box” classroom that offers students in the country’s most remote locations access to classes taught by some of the nation’s finest teachers.  On Monday, February 14, HP CEO Leo Apotheker joined Kapil Sibal, India’s Honorable Minister of Human Resource Development and Communications and Information Technology, to announce the news.


A HP Lab-in-Box prototype outside the NCERT campus in New Delhi

(above: an HP Lab-in-Box prototype outside the NCERT campus in New Delhi)


Developed in collaboration with India’s National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the Lab is built directly into a standard shipping container which is easily transportable to areas with limited access to connectivity or poor infrastructure.


Equipped with wireless connectivity, 15 HP PCs, an HP multi-function printer, a generator, and built-in furniture, the Lab-in-Box solution addresses the power, space, infrastructure and equipment challenges faced by many Indian schools today.   


Inside view of HP Lab-In-Box


Textbooks are pre-loaded onto the PCs. Curricular materials and even tutorials can be delivered from distant centers of excellence.  And HP’s multi-seat computing solutions allow multiple students to use a single PC, reducing complexity and minimizing costs.


The prototype Lab-in-Box pictured above is now housed at NCERT’s New Delhi campus, ready to be demonstrated to schools.


In the long term, the HP Lab-in-Box model might impact more than just education.  For example, the containers can also be reconfigured for other social requirements, such as service centers for citizens and remote telemedicine outlets.

Data Central, Superbowl Edition: The Quarterback of the Future?

While it may not appear this way on the surface, some of the world’s most information-driven environments are professional sports. With each play there are countless variables that need to be accounted for – and adjusted to – in real-time.


With that in mind, you would be hard pressed to find a role in sports that needs to manage more information than an NFL quarterback. Some playbooks have as many as 700 pages or more. And, for quarterbacks, what you’ll often see is a condensed version of those offensive plays and audibles put onto a wrist band, such as the one used below by the player below:


Football Wrist Band


But, what if there was a better way?


A technology HP Labs has been pioneering has been flexible electronic displays, and more specifically – the "**bleep** Tracy" watch.


While HP has stated publicly that the first prototypes are being designed to help the U.S. Military, conceptually this concept could have a major impact on how quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers interact with information on the field. For a moment, imagine these are NFL pads, instead of military equipment, and this could be your next-generation NFL superstar:




Carl Taussig, Director of the Information Surfaces Lab is the lead on this incredible project. Taussig was quoted in a CNN story in 2010 about this technology, commenting that “It doesn't break. It's thin. It's potentially flexible," referring to the plastic-based design. When it comes to the possible application of the **bleep** Tracy watch in a sporting environment, Taussig comments:


“There’s no reason why a lightweight, wearable device with a flexible electronic display couldn’t be adopted by professional sports. Of course, it would have to strictly follow the league’s rules & regulations, but the potential impact this could have to dynamically deliver relevant information to a player in a more efficient manner than just a static, paper-based wristband is immense. The same way instant replay changed officiating, this could change play calling.”


While you tune in to the Superbowl this weekend, in addition to watching the score closely, it may be interesting to watch where technology could improve different aspects of the game. HP has already used technology to enhance the stadium itself – recently announcing that Cowboys Stadium (home of Superbowl XLV) has deployed HP converged infrastructure in their state-of-the-art data center. While the outcome of the game on Sunday is still unclear, what is very clear is that innovative technology is having an increasingly bigger impact in how we watch, play, operate and enjoy professional sports. At HP, that’s as exciting to us as the game itself.

Labels: HP labs

The Fiscal Times Launches Inaugural Print Edition Through HP MagCloud


In the midst of a surge of news publications moving from print distribution to online-only, today The Fiscal Times became one of the first digital news publications to do the opposite: offer print editions after starting from an online-only model.


Through HP MagCloud, the revolutionary self-publishing web service developed in HP Labs, a commercial-quality print edition of TFT is available to consumers on demand for the first time.


"We chose MagCloud for its ease of use, good production value and  quick turnaround time," said Jacqueline Leo, editor-in-chief of The Fiscal Times.

The inaugural print edition, which was hand-delivered to each member of Congress last week, offers critical analysis of last year’s fiscal and political upheaval, a preview of the fiscal agenda in 2011, as well as a back-page essay from former President Bill Clinton.

Priced at $9 an issue, TFT can be purchased here on MagCloud.

Labels: HP labs
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