The America-based information tech giant Hewlett-Packard has definitely seen better days. Once one of the fiercest competitors in Silicon Valley, some of HP’s biggest problems were sparked by a series of damaging scandals, which did substantial damage to the tech powerhouse. Looking to overcome tanking profits and a somewhat tarnished reputation in one of the most cutthroat multi-billion dollar industries in the world, HP appears to be setting its sights on something huge. Something so big, in fact, that HP appears to be betting it all, literally.
‘The Machine’ is HP’s plan for a complete replacement of all current computer system architectures. This includes a completely new operating system, a brand new type of memory (‘memristors‘), and extremely fast buses/peripheral interconnects (connection between the CPU and expansion boards such as modem cards, network cards and sound cards) using ‘photonics‘.
The overall idea behind The Machine seems to signify that current RAM, storage, and interconnecting tech is unable to keep up with present requirements for ‘big data’ processing. Memristors may be able to replace both flash storage and RAM, and silicon photonics could provide much quicker motherboard buses.
In a statement to Bloomberg Business Week, HP says it will commercialize The Machine within a few years, “or fall on its face trying.” This is not difficult to believe. In another report from Bloomberg, a staggering 75 percent of manpower from HP’s once thriving research and development division (HP Labs) is working on The Machine. Although HP spends less on R&D per year than IBM, Oracle, or Cisco Systems, HP is a much larger company than most of its rivals, and competes in a broader range of businesses (e.g., PCs, printers, servers, storage, software, and networking). In contrast, Oracle mainly deals in software, and Cisco focuses on networking.
It’s important to note this is likely not going to be consumer-focused when launched initially, though it’s very likely that if The Machine is a complete success, this new technology from HP will indeed make its way into laptops and desktop PCs. For now, and from all appearances, it’s obvious that both HP’s The Machine and IBM’s OpenPower/Power8 are valiant attempts to break Intel’s massive x86 server monopoly. HP used to be a big player in the server market, with its own operating system and hardware design. Over the last decade, Intel’s x86 architecture quickly swept up the market to dominate all of the other major players, including HP, IBM, and Dell. For now, the latter companies were essentially forced to become nothing more than OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) resellers for x86 servers.
This ‘all-in’ move by Hewlett-Packard is obviously risky, as they themselves already mentioned that HP will fall “flat on its face trying” in their effort to commercialize The Machine within a few years. For such a large corporation to practically risk everything on a single project, one would venture to guess that they have something else hidden up their sleeves. Perhaps The Machine might make one of the greatest leaps in the industry in recent years. Whatever happens, new technology tends to breed innovations, and that’s almost always a good thing.
(Featured image photographed by Richard Lewington/Hewlett-Packard)