Datacenter Trends

Google Joins Open Compute Project

The company signed on in an effort to lead a hand in creating energy efficient datacenter specs.

The movement toward shared design and development of more efficient datacenter hardware got some extra horsepower this month when Google announced that it will be joining the Open Compute Project (OCP). Google plans to contribute a new rack specification that includes its 48-volt, direct-current power distribution technology, as well as a new form factor to allow OCP-based racks to fit into the company's shallower racks.

Energy efficiency in computing is a topic that has been "near and dear to our hearts," said John Zipfel, Google's Technical Program Manager, in a blog post -- but sharing datacenter designs, not so much. Google argues, and rightly so, that it published the details of its 12-volt architecture for racks inside its datacenters in 2006. But joining the OCP community and participating in the Open Rack project could certainly be viewed as a significant move into the open in this particular area for the company, and an acknowledgement of the ongoing value of this kind of collaborative effort.

And Google does appear to be all-in: "Today's launch is a first step in a larger effort," Zipfel wrote. "We think there are other areas of possible collaboration with OCP. We've recently begun engaging the industry to identify better disk solutions for cloud-based applications. And we think that we can work with OCP to go even further, looking up the software stack to standardize server and networking management systems...."

The Open Compute Project was launched in 2011 by Facebook and a group of partners, including Intel, Rackspace, Goldman Sacks, and Sun Microsystem Cofounder Andy Bechtolsheim. It grew out of an internal Facebook effort that began two years earlier, when, drowning in the Big Data tsunami, the social networking giant realized that it would need to "rethink its infrastructure to accommodate the huge influx of new people and data, and also control costs and energy consumption," the OCP Web site explains. The goal of the project was simple, but daunting: design the world's most energy efficient datacenter. Facebook assigned a small team of engineers to the task, and two years later its designed-and-built-from-the-ground-up datacenter project was up and running in Pineville, Ore.

Facebook open sourced the initiative and, along with its partners, formed the Open Compute Project Foundation, which functions as a standards body similar to the Java Community Process and the Eclipse Foundation. There's a board of directors to run the organization, a mostly elected incubation committee to approve new specifications, and project leads heading up the various OCP projects. Jason Taylor, vice president of infrastructure at Facebook, is the current president and chairman of the OCP Foundation board. His term ends in until October of this year.

Microsoft joined OCP in 2014, announcing that it would be contributing specs and designs for the cloud servers powering Bing, Windows Azure, and Office 365. Apple joined community in 2015, as did HP, Cisco, and Juniper, among others. Amazon Web Services remains conspicuously absent from the community, which seems to have collectively decided that there's no longer any need for multiple datacenter hardware specs.

Urs Hölzle, Google's senior vice president of technology, announced his company's plan to join the OCP at the annual OCP U.S. Summit  in San Jose, Calif. Hölzle told attendees that the 48V rack spec has increased the efficiency of Google's datacenters by 30 percent by eliminating the multiple transformers typically deployed in a datacenter. Google turned to 48-volt power distribution to provide better efficiency and performance for the demands of power-hungry systems powered by GPUs and high-power CPUs, Hölzle said.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].


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