Serious question: Is it too late for HP Project Moonshot to disrupt anything?

Hewlett-Packard(s hpq) said its first “Generation 2” Project Moonshot server, based on the Intel(s intc) Atom Series 1200 chip (aka the Intel 64-bit Centerton chip) is available as of Monday with other versions running chips from Calxeda, AMD(s amd), Applied Micro(s amcc) and Texas Instruments(s ti), as well as Intel’s next-gen 64-bit Avoton chip, to come.

Project MoonshotThe goal of Project Moonshot, as initially stated in November 2011 and reiterated seven months later, is to offer super energy-efficient and compact servers capable of running the world’s biggest webscale (and biggest enterprise) workloads at a fraction of the cost of current hardware. HP said it shipped a number of early versions for customer proofs-of-concept last year but today’s news represents broad availability of what HP execs called a “software-defined server designed for the data center.”

The new server puts 4,500 Proliant servers into one HP 1500 enclosure. Compared to traditional Proliant (DL-380) servers, this iteration uses 89 percent less energy, 80 percent less space and is 97 percent less complex than the former state of the art at 77 percent less cost.

It’s understandable, given HP’s huge server installed base in enterprises, why it lays out that particular comparison, but customers might be more interested in how Moonshot boxes compare with webscale servers from what used to be no-name rivals like Quanta, Inventec, and Wistron. Increasingly, those are the servers that are being forklifted into massive data centers.  The notion of BYO servers is also spreading. In January, Rackspace(s rax), the big hosting and cloud provider, for example, said it would start building its own servers.

That trend puts traditional server vendors like HP, Dell(s dell) and IBM(s ibm) in a tough spot. It’s good to see HP willing to cannibalize its existing products — if it doesn’t someone else will eat its lunch anyway. But,the macro issue is whether most of those big web-scale workloads have already moved onto new “no-name” servers or plan to do so. It is clear that for many of these new companies, the name on the box is not as important as the box itself and very few webscale customers appear willing to pay a premium for a label.

Moonshot servers are based on underlying fabric from HP networking, said Mark Potter, VP and GM of HP’s industry standard server (ISS)group. “This SDN switching is OpenFlow enabled so you can rapidly connect these computer architectures to any network,” he said during Monday’s web event. HP  is now running both 32- and 64-bit ARM-based Moonshot servers in the lab, he added.

Facebook(s fb) outlined its wish list for webscale enclosures and servers which it pushed into the Open Compute Foundation. HP is part of that effort but it was unclear to me whether Moonshot servers will be fully Open Compute Project (OCP) compatible.

Update: Jim Ganthier, VP of marketing and operations in HP’s server group, confirmed that Moonshot is not OCP compatible but said the new servers would be great for powering similar webscale workloads.  He also took exception to the notion that HP server marketshare is being eroded by white box makers. Existing HP servers “power 8 out of 10 of the world’s most visited web sites and 3 out of 4 of the biggest social media sites,” he said. In addition, he said research like that from Gartner(s it) and IDC that shows branded servers — including HP boxes — losing ground to white box ODMs came out “before the world knew about Project Moonshot.”

So we’ll have to wait and see.

This report was updated at 9:19 a.m. PST with more detail on the servers and again at 12:55 p.m. PST with additional HP comment.