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Will Facebook's Open Compute Project Reshape the Datacenter?

Last week a group called the Open Compute Project held its first summit in New York, where it laid out its agenda for creating power-efficient and lower-cost datacenters based on open source hardware designs.

The OCP was formed by Facebook back in April as an effort to share the hardware design of its datacenter in Prineville, Ore. The social networking giant said at the time that its datacenter improved efficiency by 38 percent and lowered costs by 24 percent. Facebook said it achieved a power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio of 1.07, compared with 1.5 for its other datacenters.

Facebook published the specs of the datacenter's servers, power supplies, server racks, uninterruptible power supplies and building design to the OCP. Fast forward to last week's Open Compute Project Summit. "Today open source is not just something that you can use to describe software but also to describe the hardware space as well," said Frank Frankovsky, director of technical operations at Facebook, in his keynote address.

"When we looked at the results of the datacenter we designed and built in Prineville and looked at the efficiency, we said why not share this, because the aggregate impact is if everyone started designing datacenters like this, we could lessen the impact on the environment pretty tremendously," he said.

Now Facebook is trying to hand this off to an independent community, though seemingly with a firm grip. Early last month it created the Open Compute Project Foundation. A board of directors led by Frankovsky includes Jason Waxman, GM for high-density computing in Intel's Data Center Group; Mark Roenigk, Rackspace Hosting's chief operating officer; Andy Bechtolshiem, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems and current chairman of Arista Networks; and Don Duet, a Goldman-Sachs managing director.

Frankovsky told attendees that the board has developed a well thought-out intellectual property policy, co-developed with Intel and some of the other founders of the board. The OCP is modeled after the Apache Software Foundation. Everything goes through an incubation committee consisting of nine people with diverse backgrounds.

Even Facebook's contributions will go through the committee, he said. More important is getting other suppliers to contribute. It looks like some key players will including Amazon Web Services, Dell, Hyve Solutions (a new division of distributor Synnex), Intel and Red Hat, among others are on board.

"We think most suppliers will feel comfortable now contributing their IP to this project to move things forward and also to create opportunities to the supply base so we really do focus here on mutual benefit," Frankovsky said. "Not only the consumers but also the suppliers in this community."

For its part, Intel appears to be actively engaged. "What it's going to do is democratize and bring together much more choice in the industry for how people can get these efficient platforms," Waxman told attendees. "We at Intel forecast that the growth rate of server deployments is going to double over the next five years. We forecast if you don't deploy greater efficiencies in the server infrastructure, that the equivalent of 45 coal power plants will need to be deployed just to keep up with that growth of server infrastructure. This is really not just an individual problem but a collective problem that we need to address."

Brian Stevens, Red Hat's CTO and VP of worldwide engineering, told attendees that until now it was difficult to share information among hardware vendors due to confidentiality agreements. "Now we can have a much more open dialog with our developers in the open source community as we go through this process based on the OCP specifications," Stevens said.

So far, it looks like Facebook has taken an interesting first step toward getting the hardware industry to talk about sharing IP that could help reduce the cost and energy requirements of running large scale datacenters. Let's see if a broad enough set of players step up and contribute, and perhaps establish more standards in the area of datacenter design and infrastructure.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/03/2011 at 1:14 PM


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