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Electrons for compute, photons for communication, ions for storage at net zero energy


Cullen Bash, Michael Tan and Partha Ranganathan_HP Discover 2012_web.jpg


HP Fellow Partha Ranganathan is a distinguished member of the Intelligent Infrastructure Lab. He’s at HP Discover 2012 to present the work that HP Labs has been doing to revolutionize data center technology to enable significant energy and cost savings and address the explosion of data in emerging web, cloud, and massive scale-out environments. We caught up with him at the HP Labs Pavilion. These are edited excerpts of the interview we conducted with him.


Q: How do you describe your current research?


Ranganathan: We are part of the Intelligent Infrastructure Lab that powers the Converged Cloud. The question we’re trying to answer is: how do we invent the future data-centric data center? And the subtext that encapsulates our research is summarized by the catchphrase “electrons for compute, photons for communication, ions for storage at net zero energy.” That’s the theme that binds together everything that we’re talking about. That’s the sound bite that we’re using to describe the future data-centric data center where the innovation is in this new way of looking at computer architecture.




Q: What will you be presenting at HP Discover 2012?


Ranganathan: HP Labs has an industry-leading portfolio in this area of research. We’ve been doing data center research for decades.  We have a very strong history with HP’s Enterprise Servers Storage and Networking (ESSN) business unit.


At Discover we will feature several of our research projects.


  • We have “Moonshot.” HP Labs is actually participating in Moonshot and is going on stage to talk about the past, present and future innovations that are developing with Moonshot.
  • We are also presenting the Net-Zero Data Center. We are showcasing HP Labs’ innovation past present and future that tie in with ESSN in this area of research with with Cullen Bash, our new interim director of the Sustainable Ecosystems Research Group.
  • We also have several other pieces of technology. We have our research collaborating with Vertica for the data-centric data store layer.

We have a strong innovation pipeline that is already visible in products that we are announcing. But more importantly, we have these as the first step in a multi-year, multi-phase effort to transform the data center for big data. We have a strong track record of collaborating with ESSN and that’s exemplified in the business unit booths at Discover 2012.


The second thing is building on top of those innovations. In the HP Labs booth, we want to point to where the future is headed. What you saw before is version 1.0 and now this is what the next generation is going to look like. What we have is three demos that provide visibility into the end-to-end portfolio that we have across the data center space.


1. We are starting with showcasing the foundational technologies. In particular, we are showcasing photonics and memristors. With photonics we have a very exciting demo of the optical backplane that the photonics team has done. It shows how you can get an amazing 30-fold increase in bandwidth at significantly lower energy and how we have a lot of innovation around cost and performance that we have brought to bear.  We have a prototype that Mike Tan will be demonstrating. That’s the first layer, the foundational layer – how we are going to use photons for communication and ions for storage. We are going to talk about memristors and our pioneering work in that field of research.


2. The second layer is going to be about how we can use these building blocks to fundamentally rethink data center design. I will be talking about nanostores and how nanostores form a very powerful and game-changing building block for the future data center. I’ll explain how for some of the emerging data-centric workloads we can easily get 10-100x improvement, a hundred-fold improvement, of the overall performance with nanostores. That’s the second layer.


3. On the third layer we’re going to talk about how just as we built a converged nanostore architecture that took all these building blocks, we now have a converged resource management layer that takes all these building blocks and manages the system very efficiently. We are going to showcase the net-zero data center management. We are going to show a demo of what happens there and how we can bring together all the individual pieces in this amazing way of connecting all the pieces for a holistic management for net-zero that gets zero power off the grid.


We are showing some physical memristor wafers so that people understand that HP is partnering with Hynix. We are also going to have a software demo of the net-zero data center with live data streaming from data centers.


Q: What are your expectations from the event?


Ranganathan: Whenever we have talked about this message with customers in local settings it has resonated really well, so what I’m hoping is that we now essentially get to do this on a greater scale, to a larger set of customers. I believe we will get a very positive response. Essentially, our presence at the Discover event is about scaling our customer outreach.

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