HP's Singapore lab to develop cloud services platform

HP's Cirious platform will address the security needs of large enterprise customers, the company says

Hewlett-Packard has opened a research lab in Singapore, where it will work on a software platform for delivering cloud-based computing services to enterprises, the company said Wednesday.

The platform, called Cirious, will provide a way for service providers such as Vodafone and Verizon Business to offer hosted computing services that are secure and scalable enough for large corporate customers, said Prith Banerjee, HP senior vice president for research and the director of HP Labs worldwide.

Cirious will include the ability for customers to move workloads outside their corporate firewalls and into a service provider's data center when the customer needs additional computing capacity, he said. Therefore, one focus of the research will be security.

"By design, you're requiring enterprises to go from within the enterprise to outside the firewall. The particular issue of providing security within this mixed hybrid environment is very complex, and that's what this research is about," Banerjee told reporters during a briefing last week.

Like other cloud platforms, Cirious will use virtualization extensively so that applications are untied from physical hardware and can be moved between servers -- and between data centers -- more freely. It is an architecture that is also being advanced by VMware and other vendors.

In a follow-up e-mail, HP declined to say whether Cirious will be based on an existing hypervisor or use new virtualization technologies. Banerjee said it will use "virtual cells" that extend to all parts of the infrastructure.

"We create a virtual abstraction layer, essentially running computations on processor cells, memory cells, networking cells and storage cells. And we provide that encapsulation in such a secure manner that you, as the end-user, don't have to worry about the security. That is the key secret sauce," he said.

Cirious will allow service providers to offer infrastructure services, akin to Amazon.com's EC2, and on-demand applications, like those from Salesforce.com. They could be general-purpose or tailored for industries such as health care, entertainment and telecommunications, Banerjee said.

Service providers will be able to "develop, host and manage their services to deliver value from the cloud and to integrate with an ecosystem of services from other providers," he said.

Several questions remain, such as when Cirious will be ready for market, and to what extent it will use existing management and virtualization software from HP and other vendors.

Cirious may compete with products from VMware, which has been pitching its new vSphere software as a way to link public and private data centers, and which says it has already signed up more than 1,000 service providers, including AT&T and Verizon Business, to offer cloud services based on its software.

The Xen.org project announced a similar service-provider initiative last August, and HP was listed as one of its supporters.

Industry analyst Dan Olds of Gabriel Consulting Group said Cirious might not be tied to one virtualization platform. "I would expect them to support whatever it is the service provider wants to use," he said.

HP's focus on security is important, he said. "That, to my mind, is probably the biggest hurdle to cloud adoption in the enterprise today," Olds said.

Cirious will be developed in conjunction with HP's Service Automation and Integration Lab in Palo Alto, California, and the Automated Infrastructure Lab in Bristol, England. Testing will be done via a network of data centers known as Open Cirrus, which was set up last year by HP, Intel and Yahoo to test cloud technologies. There are 10 data centers in the network (Carnegie Mellon University joined last week), each of which has as many as 4,000 x86 processor cores available for testing. They are as far apart as Russia, South Korea and the U.S.

HP's Singapore lab will be located in the high-rise Fusionopolis research complex. Banerjee wouldn't say how much HP is investing there, but said it will be similar in scale to other HP labs. HP has appointed a director who is adding staff this year, he said.

HP will also use the lab to test data center technologies being developed in Palo Alto. Singapore has one of the highest concentrations of data centers outside the U.S. It is hot and humid, land is expensive and natural resources are scarce -- making it the least ideal place to run an efficient data center.

"We think if we can make a services data center efficient here, then we can do it anywhere," Banerjee said.

The lab will test technologies for allocating work to a particular group of servers and then directing cool air to those servers only, he said. Cooling systems are one of the costliest parts of a data center, so effective airflow management can save a lot of money.

"It's a very ambitious project whose goal is to reduce total cost of ownership by 75 percent and carbon emissions by about 50 percent," Banerjee said.

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