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Microsoft Adding Agility to Datacenter Hardware with Open Source 'Project Olympus'

Microsoft is planning to speed up datacenter hardware contributions to the Open Compute Project (OCP) with a new "Project Olympus" effort.

The idea behind Project Olympus is to share hardware designs early with the community to accelerate datacenter innovation. Project Olympus specifically is Microsoft's "next generation hyperscale cloud hardware design," an open source contribution to the OCP that is getting released via the GitHub repository.

The project is attempting a more agile approach, except that it's all about datacenter hardware designs that are "open source."

"We're taking a very different approach by contributing our next generation cloud hardware designs when they are approx. 50% complete -- much earlier in the cycle than any previous OCP project," stated Kushagra Vaid, a general manager for Microsoft's Azure Hardware Infrastructure, in Microsoft's announcement on Monday. "By sharing designs that are actively in development, Project Olympus will allow the community to contribute to the ecosystem by downloading, modifying, and forking the hardware design just like open source software."

Microsoft wants to spur efforts with Project Olympus since "open source hardware development is currently not as agile and iterative as open source software," Vaid explained.

The OCP indicated that Microsoft essentially will be releasing hardware betas under this effort. "No other hardware contributor to OCP has released this early in the development cycle," the OCP stated, in an announcement.

Microsoft currently is a Platinum member of the OCP, an industry coalition that applies open source concepts to datacenters. It was founded in 2011 by Facebook, Intel and Rackspace. Microsoft joined the OCP in early 2014, contributing some of its Azure hardware specs to the group at that time. Later, it contributed to OCP's generation-2 Open CloudService specification, which aimed to reduce datacenter infrastructure costs. In March of this year, Microsoft proposed a new Software for Open Networking in the Cloud (SONiC) open source switch framework to add greater flexibility to hardware switches.

Project Olympus specifically will contribute the following Microsoft hardware specifications to the OCP, according to Vaid:

  • A new universal motherboard
  • High-availability power supply with batteries
  • 1U/2U server chassis
  • High-density storage expansion
  • A new universal rack power distribution unit for global datacenter interoperability
  • A standards-compliant rack management card

These components don't have to be used together. They can be used individually to meet the needs of an organization's particular datacenter infrastructure, Vaid explained.

The universal motherboard, power distribution unit and server chassis interfaces have already been released at the GitHub repository. Microsoft expects to release the entire rack system as an open source OCP contribution "in the coming weeks."

Vaid indicated that Microsoft has learned from its participation with the OCP over the last couple of years. Currently, 90 percent of its datacenter servers "are based on OCP contributed specifications," he said.

The Open Compute Project organization, for its part, expressed hope that Project Olympus would result in feedback from the community in the form of contributions, specifically "schematics, board files and mechanical assemblies."

About the Author

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

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