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HP unveils The Machine to solve all our computing woes

Memristors, silicon photonics, custom OS and chips will form a new computer model
Thu Jun 12 2014, 04:40
HP memristor (Photo - HP)

LAS VEGAS: WITH A NAME reminiscent of a sci-fi movie or James Bond neutraliser, HP has presented The Machine to the world, claiming that this revolution in computing could solve all of the world's technology problems.

Unveiled at the firm's Discover event in Las Vegas, The Machine is a combination of hardware along with a yet to be developed open source operating system and silicon photonics technology, which looks to increase bandwidth by replacing copper connections with fibre optics.

The Machine also gives HP a chance to re-energise its memristor plans, technology designed to improve memory to cope with the present and future pressure on computer processing. The memristor was invented by HP researchers in 2008 as the fourth fundamental component to join the resistor, capacitor and inductor. The theory behind the technology was around in 1971, aimed at building logic gates, the building blocks of digital circuits, and also acting as long-term storage.

The Machine is being developed at HP Labs, which has a strong heritage in inventing new forms of technology, for example Risc-based chips, but has struggled to repeat this success in recent years. The basic premise is that you can do a lot more computing with a lot less resources with The Machine, mainly through its overhaul of memory.

HP was not shy of making some pretty impressive claims about the potential for the technology, alluding to firms being able to analyse a trillion CRM records in a split second, running an entire data centre out of one box, and doctors comparing your symptoms with the records of every other patient across the globe to improve their diagnosis while not having to worry about privacy issues.

HP CEO Meg Whitman was clearly enthused by the idea, which fits perfectly into her ambition to turn HP back to being a true innovator.

"We've been leveraging the same basic computing architecture for 60 years. We've moved from the mainframe to the PC to cloud, but have relied throughout on the same basic design. Ninety percent of the time and energy consumed by the current generation of computers goes from moving information from one memory into another," she told Discover delegates.

"This is a new paradigm. HP is building a new way to compute from the ground up. This changes everything."

Whitman added that The Machine brings together component technologies that HP has been working on for some time, like the memristor, and combines them into a single product.

And the reason for this potentially game-changing piece of technology being awarded such a basic yet foreboding name? Martin Fink, HP Labs director and the firm's CTO, said the team went with the working title of The Machine while waiting for the HP marketing whizzes to come up with something more apt and catchy - a feat that's proved beyond them as yet.

Even though development is at the very early stages, HP has set a clear, and ambitious, timeline for The Machine's availability, considering what the firm is promising it will offer. HP Labs will start developing the OS this year, while the memristors will begin sampling and Core prototypes will get established in 2015. By 2017, HP expects the OS to enter public beta, along with Edge devices, and by 2019 The Machine will be officially available as a product and a service.

Hopefully the firm will be able to put aside issues around ongoing layoffs and Autonomy battles to focus on The Machine, as if it succeeds, HP will certainly be around for the next 75 years.

Also at Discover, HP announced the Helion Network, looking for partners to join its Openstack-based cloud platform, and unveiled the Apollo supercomputer, aimed at bringing high-performance computing to the enterprise. µ


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