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Microsoft Joins Open Compute Project, Releases Windows Azure Specs

Microsoft today announced that it has joined the Open Compute Project (OCP) and plans to share some of its Windows Azure datacenter designs as part of that effort.

The announcement was delivered as part of a morning keynote address at the OCP Summit, being held this week in San Jose, Calif. Microsoft will be contributing its "cloud server specification" to the OCP, according to Bill Laing, Microsoft corporate vice president of Windows Server and System Center Group Development. He described that specification as "the designs for the most advanced server hardware in Microsoft datacenters delivering global cloud services like Windows Azure, Office 365, Bing and others."

The specs will describe the server hardware used in Microsoft's datacenters, as well as the management APIs and protocols. It will include chassis and server CAD models, as well as "Gerber files" (image files showing printed circuit board layouts) for management cards and power distribution boards. It also will include the source code used for chassis functions such as server management and power controls, according to a blog post by Kushagra Vaid, general manager of server engineering at Microsoft.

The first release as part of Microsoft's OCP efforts is an open source Chassis Manager software specification, which outlines power supply and fan details. The specs are available now at the GitHub repository here.

Laing promised that Microsoft will be publishing design specifications that had resulted in "40 percent server cost savings, 15 percent power efficiency gains, and 50 percent reduction in deployment and service times," along with environmental improvements. He described Microsoft as "the only global cloud provider to publicly release these server specifications through OCP."

That claim was supported by Kyle Hilgendorf, a Gartner research director for technology professionals.

"To date, almost all of the major public cloud services have failed to expose the inner workings and configurations of the infrastructure that powers the public cloud service," Hilgendorf stated, in a blog post. He speculated that Microsoft's move possibly could spur Amazon Web Services to be more open about its cloud infrastructure, too.

Hilgendorf argued that customers tapping cloud services, such as infrastructure-as-a-service offerings, need better knowledge of the underlying resources in public cloud infrastructures to better assess the risk and compatibility issues associated with using those services. He cited the need to understand availability and redundancy resources, including knowledge about the use of fault domains and data location issues. He also suggested that organizations with private cloud infrastructures could learn something from Microsoft's OCP specifications.

"As the Microsoft and OCP initiative moves forward, there is no reason why large customers and partners cannot start to deploy the same [Windows] Azure-like infrastructure internally and ensure compatibility in a hybrid cloud architecture as workloads migrate to the public cloud or back to the internal, private cloud," Hilgendorf wrote.

The OCP was initially started by Facebook engineers who wished to share lessons learned in building more efficient and open datacenters. The OCP organization was later formed by Facebook in April 2011, but it quickly drew support from other industry participants, such as Intel and Rackspace. Later participants joining the OCP included Canonical, Cloudscaling, Hewlett-Packard and VMware, among others.

In joining the OCP, Laing said that Microsoft is aiming to "help build an open source software community" within that organization. The OCP is represented by a heavy Linux open source community element. An article published by The Wall Street Journal found some industry observers wondering what Microsoft could gain from joining it. Microsoft of late has promoted interoperability with Linux, particularly though its Microsoft Open Technologies Inc. subsidiary.

Laing noted that Microsoft has already worked with its partners in sharing its cloud specifications. In addition, he described how Microsoft has progressed with its cloud computing efforts over the years. He said that Microsoft first began managing its datacenters in 1989, with MSN starting in 1995 as its first global online service.

All told, Microsoft has invested $15 billion in its cloud infrastructure. The company has provided "more than 200 cloud services to 1 billion customers and 20 million businesses in more than 90 markets around the world," according to Laing.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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